Pasqua's private problems

September 1, 1995

France's first private "university" - the brainchild of former interior minister Charles Pasqua - opens on September 4 for just 100 to 200 students after an investment of Fr1.2 billion (Pounds 156 million).

By February 1996, student numbers should rise to 450 at the Pole Universitaire Leonard de Vinci, dubbed the "Pasqua faculty". Another 1,000 students in private schools will share the premises.

The faculty is funded by the Hauts de Seine district council in the Paris region, which is Mr Pasqua's political stronghold. It offers courses under three headings - science and technology, business and administration studies and European studies.

Planned when private business and engineering schools were booming, the formula is based on partnership with local firms.

However, no university has agreed to validate the faculty's diplomas, few firms have agreed to partnerships backed up by hard cash and the Fr26,000 enrolment fee has found few takers.

Moreover, the Pasqua faculty has been a political hot potato. Students and academics at the nearby Nanterre University (Paris 10), opposition councillors and associations are demanding that the premises and investments be handed over to its overstretched neighbour.

The council has built 600 studio apartments for the faculty students, who can apply for up to 90 per cent subsidy of the enrolment fee, according to their parents' income.

The Nanterre halls of residence are oversubscribed and in need of repair. Should the private faculty reach its full complement of 5,000 students, its premises will offer an average ten square metres per student, while Nanterre offers just two square metres each.

Listing differences at a heated council meeting, Communist Party councillor Catherine Margate concluded: "How can one be surprised that the students see your private faculty as a provocation?" Charles Pasqua steered the project though when he was in Edouard Balladur's cabinet. Now he is in the political wilderness, the present government appears to be distancing itself from the concept.

Answering a question in parliament in June, Jean de Boishue, secretary of state for higher education, stressed his attachment to state universities, "the only ones able to promote equality of opportunity".

He warned that if time were lost in tackling the problem of "renovating" the university system, "we will favour the emergence of solutions which are inevitably non-egalitarian and most often destined to have a precarious future".

Mr Pasqua, chair of the Hauts de Seine council, and his RPR party councillors say they are confident that the private faculty will work.

Councillor Isabelle Balkany said: "The Pole Universitaire Leonard de Vinci will be an opportunity for all, including the state universities, to bring France's higher education into the modern era."

Opponents have planned a series of protest actions this month to back demands for "Leonard de Vinci" to be handed over to the public sector.

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