Reforms honed to Europe

April 10, 1998

France's university degree system faces profound change if reforms proposed by a commission of inquiry into higher education go ahead.

Chaired by Jacques Attali, a state counsellor and former head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London, the commission of academics, researchers and business leaders recommends changing the length of degree courses to conform in the long term to a "European model of higher education".

Claude Allegre, the minister of education, appointed the working group last July to investigate how better to harmonise the universities and the grandes ecoles, the elite institutions that specialise in such fields as science, engineering, medicine, business studies, political science and civil service training.

Although its report is not due for delivery to the minister until the end of April, key proposals were leaked first to the newspaper Liberation. Under the present French system, degree courses are graded according to the number of years' study required following the baccalaureat, the end-of-lycee exam that gives successful pupils the right to higher education.

At university, after an initial two-year course such as the diplome d'etudes universitaires generales (Deug), there are four further levels: * licence, equivalent to a bachelor's degree

* maitrise, or master's, and equivalents

* awards by the grandes ecoles and engineering schools

* doctorate

The Attali commission proposes leaving the grandes ecoles alone, but making changes to the universities and university institutes of technology. It advocates revising the initial and masters degrees and prolonging them each by a year, resulting in diplomas centred on three, five and eight years' study after the bac.

Changes would be introduced over ten to 20 years, but the idea would be eventually to have in place a system that would correspond to those of other European countries. Mr All gre plans to launch the debate at a European conference in May, which will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Sorbonne.

The new system would also be tailored to accommodate continuing education and training, another of Mr All gre's higher education priorities.

Bernard Saint-Girons, senior vice-chairman of the university presidents' conference, said the report would open a period of reflection.

"Such a debate can be carried out only with and by the parties involved," he said in an interview in Liberation, adding that it would only have meaning if carried out in consultation with other European countries.

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