French told to improve advice

November 9, 2006

France's young people need better and earlier guidance to help them choose the university course that suits them best, a report presented to Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin concludes, writes Jane Marshall in Paris.

The report also calls on universities to "professionalise" their programmes to make them more relevant to companies' requirements - and it recommends that universities lose funding if their graduates remain jobless.

The paper was commissioned to explore how to strengthen links between universities and employment, combat student failure and better equip young people to find work.

It originated from a six-month debate launched by President Jacques Chirac in March, in the wake of nationwide student and union protest against a youth employment reform that the Government subsequently abandoned.

In April, Mr de Villepin appointed the 16-member Université-Emploi commission headed by Patrick Hetzel, chief education officer of Limoges.

The group spent the following months organising more than 120 meetings in 29 education authorities, and involving nearly 20,000 academics, employers, teachers, trade unions, professional organisations, students, regional authorities and other interested parties.

France's high annual dropout rate exceeds 80,000 students - 20 per cent of first and second-years - while 11 per cent of graduates are unemployed three years after completing their studies.

The report rejects pre-university selection, but recommends establishing an effective advice system during the final year of school so that pupils do not undertake university-level courses for which they have no aptitude.

They should be told pass rates for the courses they are considering, and should set out in writing their study plans for examination by committees of teachers who could suggest alternative courses if they considered pupil's choices unsuitable.

Interviews with university teachers would take place between the Baccalauréat and university enrolment, and also at the end of the first university semester to check students' abilities and progress. Student-university contracts would set out training and employment plans.

The report recommends that the licence (bachelors equivalent) should be revised to "make it a real diploma leading to job opportunities". Every licence course should include a module requiring students to construct "personal professional projects" as well as to perfect skills such as foreign languages, use of information and communication technology, and producing a CV.

Universities should monitor student employment rates and improve career prospects of academics who devote time to teaching professional skills.

The report also suggests that universities receive funding according to their graduates' success in finding work.

University presidents welcomed the measures, but regretted that the report - and the Prime Minister - remained "quiet on its implementation and the resources that will be devoted to it".

Unef, the majority student union, also criticised the lack of information about funding and complained that student failure was seen only from the point of view of suitability of courses.

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