French students revolt

December 13, 2002

Student opposition to government reforms, including European harmonisation plans, has led to a wave of strikes and demonstrations at French universities.

The movement started when students at Toulouse-2 (Mirail) University went on strike in mid-November. Since then, the universities of Montpellier, Bordeaux 2 and Bordeaux 3 have joined the strikes. At the weekend, Mirail students met delegates from other protest committees including two Paris faculties.

Thousands of students demonstrated last week during a national strike in support of public services, and Mirail called another rally for this week.

Mirail students have had contact with universities in Spain and Portugal, and have called a "European day of mobilisation" on December 12.

The protests are directed against reforms that students claimed were eroding public-service higher education and leading to "privatisation" of the sector. The students also claim state-funded work experience is a subsidy to the private sector.

They said that the principle of free university education with open access to all was under attack. They cited developments including European harmonisation, which will lead to abolition of some national degrees, decentralisation, rises in student fees and cuts in the education and research budgets.

The government and university presidents are committed to phasing in the European university structure by 2010. This will include diplomas following three, five and eight years of studies, known as LMD (licence-master-doctorat), and the European credit-transfer system.

Following the 1999 Bologna declaration, which laid the foundations for a European Higher Education Area, the decrees were adopted a year ago and the first universities have started their new programmes.

Student union SUD-Etudiant said: "Under cover of European harmonisation, these reforms are intended to turn universities into a market for profit."

Credit-transfer would produce a system based on workload, not on knowledge, and would penalise students who had to take paid work, it said.

While enrolment was virtually free 20 years ago, annual fees were now at least €300 (£191).

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