French universities take up challenge to do more to help disadvantaged learners

May 5, 2006

French universities are responding to the Government's challenge to them to tackle an alarmingly high failure rate among students studying for first diplomas.

Nearly 70 universities and about 30 grandes écoles have submitted projects to a €3 million (£2.1 million) project launched last September by Francois Goulard and Azouz Begag, junior Ministers for Higher Education and Research and for Equal Opportunities respectively. The ministers called for schemes that would give the most socially disadvantaged young people more access to higher education and more chances of succeeding in their studies.

More than 40 per cent of French students fail to pass their initial diploma during the designated two years, and those from the poorest backgrounds perform worst.

The call for schemes says: "Universities today cater for a public whose diversity and specific needs must be better taken into account. Every student, whatever his or her type of Baccalauréat , must have the chance of succeeding at university and finding a job. University must be able to offer each of these students a suitable course."

The programme's objectives include developing partnerships between universities and lycées , especially those in poor areas, to encourage capable school-leavers to enter higher education and provide guidance on courses that would suit them; devising ways of identifying students most at risk of failure and giving them extra support; and involving business and industry.

The 104 proposals are being examined by a jury headed by Louis Schweitzer, chairman of the Haute Autorite de Lutte contre les Discriminations et pour l'Egalité, which will announce the selected projects this month.

Those chosen will share €3 million for the 2006-07 academic year to introduce their schemes, which other establishments will be encouraged to emulate.

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