Student poverty data disputed

December 19, 1997

FRENCH students are not so badly off, some interpreters of a large-scale survey have claimed.

The survey by the Observatoire de la Vie Etudiante, which monitors student conditions, looked at student "revenue" in the shape of disposable income, all sources of direct and indirect support, including meals eaten at parents' homes and parental tax relief.

Its findings, based on a survey it conducted in 1994, come just as the French government is considering reform of student support.

Although the survey report is careful to distinguish between these types of revenue, much of the French media trumpeted that students have between one and two times the minimum wage.

Sociologist Louis Gruel, one of the report's authors, said: "I regret that the headlines did not make any distinction: there is a big difference between disposable income and total support."

The average income reported by the survey varies greatly between undergraduates and postgraduates. The youngest students have an average of just over Pounds 200 disposable income and Pounds 500 total support per month while the most advanced postgraduates have Pounds 800 a month.

But the survey crucially fails to link student income to the student drop-out rate, which is one of the worst in the industrialised world. It provides a snapshot of income at the moment when the student filled in the questionnaire.

The survey shows that many students from disadvantaged families rely heavily on earnings from jobs, which puts them in a similar income bracket to middle-class students.

However it gives no indication of the length of time over which the wage-earning student is able to maintain that situation.

Mr Gruel acknowledged that the drop-out rate for students from the poorest families is extremely high. "There is a very strong fall-off in the number of working-class students at each level. This is particularly severe in the case of working-class female students - as many start university, but even fewer continue," he said.

The report describes as minor the income difference according to social origin and reports that the gap is even narrower for the small numbers of working-class students embarking on advanced courses.

Both working and middle-class postgraduates tend to have jobs, but not of the same type.

"Working-class students usually have unskilled jobs that bear no relation to their field of study and often impede that study, while middle-class students find work linked to their studies," said Mr Gruel.

The main student unions have welcomed the report, arguing that its findings give greater weight to their demand for more direct student support. "Both sides should find data in our report to defend their viewpoint - our aim is to provide indicators for the debate on student support, not to spark polemic," Mr Gruel said.

Another nationwide survey has just been completed on the same "snapshot" basis and the data is now being analysed.

8Jnews internationalTHE TIMES 7Jdecember 19 1997 reuters

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