Students fuel debate on college reforms

January 8, 1999

Details of the controversial reform to reorganise university studies around three, five or eight year courses have been released following student unrest and calls for clarification from the newly elected chief representative of university presidents.

After a meeting with teaching and student unions in December, education minister Claude All gre agreed to publish details of his plan aimed at harmonising university courses and degrees with those of other European countries.

Student unions are concerned that the plan, based on a report by state counsellor Jacques Attali, will lead to privatisation and "Americanisation" of universities, with creation of a split between "profitable" scientific, medical and economics courses and those based on arts or social science.

On the day of his election as senior vice-president of the Conference des Presidents d'Universite - the equivalent of Britain's vice-chancellors - Andre Legrand, president of the University of Paris X Nanterre, said the "ambiguity and vagueness" of Mr All gre's reforms "do not help to manage problems at local level".

His predecessor, Bernard Saint-Girons, president of Toulouse I University, said a clear strategic plan was required to spell out basic principles and links that needed to be set up "if we want to open the debate".

Mr All gre has announced consultations for January on the realignment of degree courses after the end-of-lycee baccalaureat, an arrangement that "universities will enter on a voluntary basis", according to the ministry.

The aim is to conform to a future European model "to facilitate free voluntary circulation of students, and awards by the state of degrees and diplomas".

But Mr All gre promised that all current national qualifications would be maintained and there would be no preliminary selection - the baccalaureat would remain the passport to university entrance.

Arts and social sciences would not be neglected, "through extra resources as well as the progressive organisation of studies". Its "massive financial engagement" indicated the state was refusing "any prospect of privatising the universities," said a ministry statement.

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