Row over work placements

July 11, 1997

FRENCH university presidents are coming under pressure from student unions to play a more active role in plans for work placements leading to a degree credit.

Under France's previous government the representative body for industry, the CNPF, proposed a plan for 50,000 placements which was rejected by students because there were insufficient guarantees on content. A CNPF leader now says 100 big firms are ready to take students but the universities are dragging their feet.

Many universities gave a cautious welcome to the plan for general degree students to be offered the chance of job-training leading to a credit.

However, the two main student unions oppose the plan, claiming it offers few guarantees of genuine professional experience. UNEF-ID announced last week that education minister Claude All gre had promised the union to freeze existing proposals pending new talks.

Bernard Saint-Grions, vice president of the university presidents' conference, CPU, said: "This is an acutely sensitive issue and we cannot have a new set-up unless universities retain responsibility for the educational content of work placements."

Mr Saint-Girons, president of Toulon I University, rejected the idea that the scheme needed to be piloted at national level but insisted that professional experience credits and student support are the two main questions left unresolved after the change of government in France halted a process of negotiated university reform.

Pouria Amirshahi, head of UNEF-ID, said: "The CPU bears responsibility here and must commit itself." He then warned that "if university presidents do not take a united stand, a student/CNPF conflict could turn into a conflict with the universities".

Jean-Pierre Finance, the CPU's new deputy vice president from Toulouse I University, rejected the CNPF claim that the universities are dragging their feet over work placements. "First the CNPF promised 50,000 placements, then 5,000, now no specific number. We know from experience how long it takes to develop links with companies willing to take in students," he said. "University presidents do see this as a major problem. There is a huge shortfall of some 200,000 jobs for graduates, that's the problem we're facing today."

On the general issue of CPU policy on university development promised by Mr Allegre, Mr Raoult said improving the quality of higher education and forging new contractual links with regional authorities, business and industry were priorities.

The Paris universities have recently made a strong stand, demanding special treatment. "There can clearly be no distinction between Paris universities and the rest," said Mr Raoult. "But a number of Paris universities are in a difficult situation and they must be a priority."

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