French students protest about 'illegal' fees

July 28, 2006

Most French universities are illegally charging up to €3,500 (£2,400) for services that should be covered by statutory fees, student leaders claim, writes Jane Marshall in Paris.

Last year, the main student union, Unef, found that 60 per cent of universities were overcharging students enrolling for the new academic year. It said: "Sixty-two per cent of universities are breaking the law and laying themselves open to litigation."

The list is headed by Aix-Marseille-3 University of Law, Economics and Sciences, which the union said was charging supplementary fees of between €30 and €3,500. Others include the University Jean-Monnet in Saint-Etienne, which overcharges by up to €500, and Clermont-Ferrand-1, University of Auvergne, which charges up to €465 extra.

Unef accused Gilles de Robien, the Education Minister, of breaking a promise he made last year to put an end to the practice.

French university fees, which are among the lowest in Europe, have been set by the Government for 2006-07 at between €162 for licence (bachelor) courses and €320 for PhD studies. Apart from compulsory health insurance charges, Unef said: "Any additional cost is illegal, if it is not optional and if it does not correspond to a clearly identified service that is separate from the university's public service obligations."

The union said supplementary charges could not be justified at a time when fees were being increased by 4.9 per cent.

Philippe Tchamitchianhe, president of Aix-Marseille-3, told newspaper Le Monde that the €3,500 supplementary charges applied to students taking masters at the Institut d'Administration des Entreprises, which are vocational degrees and are optional. Students who received state grants were exempt, he added.

Yannick Vallée, head of the Conference of University Presidents, said: "If university presidents introduce specific charges, it is because they lack money. It is not for the fun of it."

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