Students refuse funding deal

December 8, 1995

In tune with the worsening industrial strife in France, students in dozens of universities spurned yet another attempt this week by education minister Francois Bayrou to reach a compromise over university funding.

While the government held firm on its health reform plan which triggered the wider industrial action, it tried to appease the students with an offer which went beyond the demands of university presidents.

Mr Bayrou finally unveiled an offer which French media reports said had been ready for a week : an extra 2,000 academic posts, 2,000 administrative posts and FFr369 million (Pounds 49 million) this year. The plan also included a repair budget for unsafe university buildings of FFr2 billion spread over two years.

However, it was not clear how much of that sum would come from state funds and how much universities and local authorities would be expected to contribute.

His offer is conditional on student participation in a national convention on university reform to be organised later this month.

It was immediately welcomed by the university presidents' conference, the CPU. But it fell well short of the students' national platform of "non-negotiable" demands which include FFr4 billion immediate emergency funding, FFr50 billion over five years, 25,000 academic posts, 20,000 administrative posts and the "requisition" of private universities.

Those demands, drawn up by a national student committee of delegates representing 65 universities, reflect the new mood of political militancy which has taken over the two-month-old protest movement.

While students at some universities approved the minister's offer as a first step towards meeting their demands, most voted overwhelmingly to keep up the pressure.

Pouria Amirshahi, leader of the UNEF-ID student union, close to the Socialist Party, said: "We think that the student mobilisation has paid off and so should be kept up. It gives us the possibility to win more demands, such as an education bill committing the government to set university funding levels and the requisition of private universities."

Another nationwide day of student protest action was organised on Tuesday, coinciding with the national demonstration against health service reforms organised by France's trade unions.

With the spectre of May 1968 appearing to return to haunt the government, striking postal, electricity and gas workers addressed student protestors in university lecture halls to drive home the message that they were fighting for the same cause.

Student anxiety over youth unemployment has spurred the unrest in the universities, which coincides with strikes reflecting workers' anxiety over pension and health care rights.

But the student unions increasingly showed their lack of leadership in the student protest movement. UNEF-ID cautiously approved Mr Bayrou's proposals at first. However, it has been careful to support the line of the national strike committee even though its demands are closer to Mr Bayrou's proposals than to the committee's multi-billion franc platform.

Meanwhile, the pro-Communist party UNEF-SE union refused to meet with Mr Bayrou when he received all official student unions on Sunday, preferring to allow the strike committee to represent the student movement.

Both unions have representatives on the 22-member national strike committee which includes members of anarchist and far left groups and four non-aligned students. A bad omen came at the start of Sunday's first face-to-face talks at the education ministry when Mr Bayrou lost his temper at the refusal by some members of the students' national strike committee to shake hands with him.

The minister, who declared last month when he was still refusing to meet student delegates, "I love the students, we are on the same side of the barricade," first snapped "get out! I'm the boss here" before calming down.

As student demands began to focus on the requisition of private universities, former interior minister Charles Pasqua stepped in to defend the luxurious and nearly empty Leonard da Vinci Institute, which was built with public money by the Paris regional council which he chairs.

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