French education minister Claude Allegre has suggested that a shorter second degree programme similar to a masters in the United States may be needed to modernise the French education system.
Sketching out his goals for 1998, the minister said he wanted to create an "education industry" in France that would feed directly into business. "The risk-takers left long ago to cross the Atlantic, " he said. "We are the ones who stayed behind and risk-taking is not as much a part of our culture as it should be. There is a problem with the business culture in our country that we are going to attack."
Mr Allegre has pledged support for tertiary reforms within the framework of European harmonisation. Speaking at the Sorbonne he said that the French system does not breed sufficient innovation: "We must develop fundamental and applied research at alllevels of higher education to feed into small and medium business," highlighting the medical, nuclear and new technology sectors.
Calls for offers on providinglifelong learning through the higher education service have gone out to all 80 French universities. Mr Allegre said that some had yet to respond and hinted at what he perceived to be a reluctance towards the idea in certain quarters. "There should be a coming and going between our schools and professional life. Teaching should be an exchange, and new technologies will play a part in that."
Responding to questions after his address, Mr Allegre said the suppression of the grandes ecoles ,such as the Ecole National d'Administration, Ecole Centrale and Ecole des Mines, was not on his agenda. He said, however, that a rapprochement between the universities and the 180 grandes ecoles was necessary. "When some of those schools have just 30 pupils and serious financial troubles you have to admit there is a problem," he said.
A commission led by Jacques Attali, former presidential adviser and former head of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, is due to report on the subject soon.
An investigation into secondary level education launched last week may also impact on tertiary education. The sociologist and director emeritus at the National Centre of Scientific Research, Edgar Morin, has been charged with leading 40 specialists to assemble the intellectual and business communities' points of view on high school teaching matters. Lyons University professor Philippe Meirieu is organising a national consultation involving students and teachers to explore the usefulness of the current curriculum and a more inter-disciplinary approach to learning. The aim is to combat the drop-out rate among first-year students in universities. The dialogue, which includes the distribution of more than four million questionnaires, will culminate in a two-day seminar in late April.
The minister has already made it clear he is in favour of more cross-over among university and high school teaching staff.
Mr Allegre spoke of a renewal of the public service and of his desire to see the education system providing a management style that is closer to the public. In terms of streamlining the central administration, he has already reduced the number of services from 19 to 11. "We need to be more human, less automatic," he stressed.
* Research, page iv