France has one of the lowest pass rates in the developed world for students taking their first university diploma because their courses do not include general culture and they have to specialise too soon, according to education and research minister Luc Ferry.
Setting out his priorities for higher education in newspaper Le Monde , Mr Ferry said that while France had achieved mass expansion of higher education - there are now more than one-and-a-half million university students, half of them studying for the initial two-year diploma, the Deug ( diplôme d'études universitaires générales ) - quality needed raising.
He wrote: "The pass rate... remains one of the weakest in countries of the developed world: only 45 per cent of French students get their Deug in two years, 68 per cent in three years."
Mr Ferry, an academic and philosopher, said the roots of the problem were a lack of general culture in undergraduate education, and the early specialisation required for the Deug , which led many students to choose inappropriate courses.
Others who won places at elite, selective schools benefited from a varied, coordinated education, he said. "Why should what we judge good to offer to future pupils of the grandes écoles in the field of humanities not also be good for [university] students?"
Mr Ferry proposed five major policy areas for higher education and research:
- Universities will be encouraged to introduce general culture studies for each major branch of studies
- Better guidance for new students on their choice of subject, and greater care and monitoring of undergraduates
- Continuing efforts to open students' horizons beyond France
- More autonomy and decentralisation of universities
- Emphasis on the positive role of science and technology to halt student disaffection and reverse the drop in graduates entering research. This should start at primary school, and universities should organise courses in the history of science for all students.