France's education minister Jack Lang is seeking to improve the success rate of the first-level general university diploma. Fewer than four out of ten students who take the diploma pass in the set time of two years.
This year, 2.1 million students are enrolled in French higher education. Of the 1.5 million in universities, about 600,000 are studying for the diploma (the Deug). About 695,000 are taking higher degrees, and nearly 120,000 are studying in university institutes of technology. The remainder are in teacher-training institutes or public or private higher education establishments, such as business schools.
Ministry of education research has found that just 37 per cent of Deug students passed the degree in the statutory two years. Most of the others had to retake a year, turning the Deug into a three-year diploma. Nearly one in five changed to a non-Deug course, and one in ten gave up higher education altogether.
Last week Mr Lang announced a series of measures that he hopes will reverse this trend.
First, he plans to create a director of studies post for each university course, with designated teachers giving first-year students support and advice, supervising conditions of work and coordinating study programmes. Students should find it easier to switch courses if they find themselves in difficulty with their first choice of subject.
Since 1997, students have had the right to change their course at the end of the first semester, but just 2 per cent do so. Now this opportunity will be extended to the end of the first year.
To help all students find programmes that suit them, Mr Lang plans to develop courses that combine two or more subjects. At the moment, this option is restricted to the sciences.
He also called for initiatives to make university teaching more effective, such as smaller study groups and the use of new technologies.
Other ministerial preoccupations include how to reverse the steep decline in numbers of students taking science, and the content of economics courses, which a growing number of students complain are too theoretical.
Long-term recruitment plans, to be announced next month, will include higher education, the minister announced, although he said that France was enjoying the best student-to-teacher ratio since the mid-1980s.