Indignant staff take to the street

March 23, 2001

Strikes and demonstrations by students and staff at universities specialising in arts and human sciences have highlighted their growing indignation at lack of resources.

Last week, 1,300 students and 200 teachers from Metz University brought their protests to Paris. They demonstrated near the education ministry where a delegation had a second meeting with the director of higher education, having previously negotiated an initial extra allocation.

According to Metz's vice-president, Gérard Michaux, who joined the march, the university is 144 teaching posts short.

The students, who began their strike on March 1, have held a series of demonstrations in their university town in northeast France. On one occasion, they occupied offices and detained for two hours the university president, Marie-Jeanne Cercelet-Philippe, whose resignation they have demanded.

Students at the University of Montpellier-III, who have also been on strike since the beginning of the month, were last week continuing demonstrations on the streets of the city. The university was placed under the supervision of the education authority late last month after its board of governors refused to vote on the budget in protest at "lack of resources".

Out of 81 universities in France, Montpellier-III scores badly on indicators such as the ratio of students to teachers and to technical and other support staff, and research budget per student. Half its students receive financial aid.

Mich le Weil, the university's president, said it needed another 196 teaching posts, 50 administrative posts, 35,000 square metres of space and more than €610,000 (£380,000) in extra funding.

Presidents and governors of universities specialising in literature, languages, arts and human and social sciences have also been voicing concern that they are becoming the poor relations of higher education. They have stressed the need for increased funds to modernise courses in line with government policy requiring new technologies, modern facilities and specialised staff training.

Some universities, including Nancy-II and Paris-XIII, closed for a day last December. In November, the University of Paris-I, Pantheon-Sorbonne, secured a promise from the ministry for extra premises after governors threatened to cancel courses in protest against unsafe and overcrowded buildings.

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