Juppe sidesteps grants pledge

June 2, 1995

France's new prime minister, Alain Juppe, has outlined plans to implement two of Jacques Chirac's electoral pledges on education to Parliament, but made no mention of his third major promise: to give students a new "social status" and to increase grants.

Mr Juppe emphasised the need to "harmonise" the education system with the "world of work", an electoral theme of President Chirac's. He promised "high-level" technical and vocational courses that students would see as a "real choice" instead of a "last resort".

He also announced plans for the national referendum on educational reform which Mr Chirac proposed during his campaign and which is being organised by the education minister Francois Bayrou. However, his statement implied that the referendum may not be held for some time.

"Adaptation of our education system to meet the challenges of the fight for employment also means reforming first-level university courses," he told parliament. While the "democratisation" of the universities had now become a reality, higher education must not be a "machine for organising shipwrecks to see who can swim best".

One proposal, to avert the "suffocation" of first-level courses by giving regional authorities shared responsibility for running them, came from new secretary of state for higher education, Jean de Boishue.

Mr Juppe also spoke of the need to adapt these courses to regional employment prospects and to put the reform question to a national referendum.

But political observers noted that the plan to conduct a long series of consultations first could push the referendum back to 1998 - a general election year when it risks being shelved.

Education unions are also wary of the idea. "We suspect that the government wants to go over the heads of academic unions and professional bodies," noted Claude Lecaille, general secretary of the academic union SNESUP.

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