Identity crisis for blue-collar dons

February 6, 1998

Paris

Strikes and street protests across France by students and professors at university technical institutes were headed off last week by education and research minister Claude All gre after round-table talks.

After a first meeting with institute directors, the minister won an agreement to drop a national protest set for February 2.

The two-month dispute concerns financial penalties for institutes that have recruited students with general baccalaureates as opposed to those with a more technical or professional orientation.

The institutes were established in the mid-1960s to provide qualified and immediately operational employees. Since then, more and more students (47 per cent according to the national student union UNEF-ID) have opted to continue their studies beyond the two-year technical institute programme.

"That's why the minister wanted to reduce funding," said Claire Cayol, an education ministry official. "He saw the institutes as offering something similar to the general university studies diploma."

Other demands were the recognition of the institutes' "specificity", recruitment of senior lecturers and criteria for student repeat years. Students were also concerned about the institutes' profile at home and abroad.

The minister confirmed the institutes' role in the university structure but re-established a veto over staff recruitment. He also promised there would be no contract between the universities and the state without the consent of the institutes. The creation of 25 lecturing posts was announced.

A further agreement was reached about the criteria under which students failing to make grades could repeat a year.

UNEF-ID was positive about the conclusions, but president Pouria Amirshahi called for more debate. "There is no technology degree course in France that will take a student beyond two years' study," he claimed. "Many institutes are still without Internet connections. An effort should be made to update and upgrade programmes left behind by developments in the workplace."

Asked whether the protests were justified, Bernard Saint-Girons, head of the University Presidents' Association, said: "The real debate, which won't take place in the streets, is about university training in technology and of the place of the institutes in the overall university picture."

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