Students end strike in Brittany

March 24, 1995

A five-week strike by students aimed at highlighting their harsh financial circumstances has ended at Rennes 2 University in Brittany.

The students were demanding the withdrawal of government reform plans and emergency aid for 2,000 needy students.

They won a concession on access for all degree holders to the university's postgraduate teacher training institute, the IUFM.

But after the stoppage was called off, undergraduates in the fine arts department went back on strike when they were told open access to the IUFM could not be implemented this year.

At stake is the principle of selection. The students are demanding equal access for all degree holders, just as all baccalaureate holders have the right to enter university.

The IUFM has been selecting graduates who got their degree in three years.

The students, however, argue that those who took four or five years should have an equal opportunity to study for a teaching diploma.

Under the French system, the number of diplomas awarded each year matched the number of new teaching posts. With graduate unemployment soaring, there is now massive demand for teacher training, but fewer posts are available.

"My aim is to get diplomas for as many of my students as possible, but there are fewer posts and taking on more applicants does not necessarily increase the number of students who make it," said IUFM director Jean-Pierre Gaborieau.

"The students feel the selection system is unfair. On the social affairs committee, we see about 200 students in difficulty a month. Some cannot even afford to eat and severe financial problems slow them down," said Rennes 2 vice-president Jean Brihault.

"There are also slow developers who become very good postgraduates," he said. Both Mr Brihault and Mr Gaborieau point to Brittany's long-standing tradition of social advancement through education and a teaching career to explain the pressure on the IUFM.

Traditionally Brittany made up the teacher shortage in other regions which can now meet their own needs.

When IUFMs began the elective entry system, even nation-wide advertising campaigns could not muster sufficient candidates.

Comparison with a nearby private campus also fuelled student anger. "When the students returned from a demo at the private campus, they were shocked. They saw student rooms well over twice the size of theirs and could not get over it," Mr Brihault said.

The Ker-Lann campus, with several private business and technical schools, has 700 students on 170 hectares, compared to Rennes 2's 18,000 students cramped on to 15 hectares. It is funded by the regional council.

Student protest also continued sporadically at several other French universities after the withdrawal of government reform plans, but so far only the Rennes students have demanded equal access to a selective training course.

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