Thursday, January 19, 2012

Critique of French Higher Education Policy

Christophe Charle and Charles Soulié offer a blistering critique of the reform of French higher education carried out by the right over the past ten years. Rather too blistering, I think, since it omits the defects of the old system and exaggerates those of the new. Still, there are many good points, such as:
La seconde menace tient aux évolutions contrastées entre les filières et les disciplines. Le déclin des disciplines anciennes ou les plus académiques au profit des nouveaux domaines ou de filières à vocation professionnelle ou axées sur des emplois supposés d'avenir s'est déjà manifesté depuis quelques années. Là encore, les écarts se creusent entre établissements. Les universités dominées par les sciences humaines et sociales, certaines universités scientifiques les moins bien situées dans les hiérarchies académiques sont très affectées par ces baisses et les changements d'option des nouvelles générations étudiantes.


Jusqu'ici, le gouvernement a mis en place surtout un processus darwinien de sélection des plus forts à travers les diverses compétitions lancées ces deux dernières années autour des trophées du grand emprunt : plan Campus, EquipEx, LabEx, IdEx, etc. Dans un deuxième temps, il pourra utiliser les procédures d'évaluation mises en place pour répartir inégalement les sacrifices entre les établissements les plus fragiles au nom d'une rigueur qui ne doit pas pénaliser ceux qui réussissent, concurrence internationale oblige.


DavidinParis said...

Really!? Darwinian? Like, in you need to publish and get grants? Oh my, that might take a bit of work, and a bit more thinking about when and who gets a poste for life prior to demonstrating lasting power in a highly competitive career.

The major problem with the so-called movement towards autonomy is that the people running the universities during this transition are the old guard (or their dauphins) who ran the universities into the ground in the first place. They have no idea how the world works outside their little offices (actually big offices).

Anonymous said...

The idea of putting money into universities, looking at the effect, and adjusting the budget so as to put more money where it has the most impact and avoid putting money where it ends up being wasted: it is anathema to those people apparently. Equality at all costs, they claim!

There's plenty to criticize about how universities are evaluated and where the priorities ought to be, but the starting point is hard to question at time of tight budgets. I agree that this smacks of old guard who are hopelessly behind the times.

Anonymous said...

David and Anonymous: French universities are in such a state that it's pretty indecent to speak about "priviledge". French professors make about $30,000 a year -those who are tenure track... but most of the teaching isn't done by lecturers in secure posts, anyway; those part time instructors are paid like adjuncts in the US, except less. A certain number of public universities are about to declare bankrupcy. Most universities right now have to choose whether to pay the electricity bill, or to heat buildings - if they do both then there are lots of other things they must do without, which wouldn't even be thought of in the US. We're not talking slashing the landscaping budget and cancelling the climbing wall for the student union here, we're talking absolute basics. Some universities started electricity repairs because they were fire hazards and couldn't pay so the electric cords are dangling from the ceiling. As for the government, it's still paying its 2009 bills to contractors. Science schools that recruit on their own terms receive money - and it's not related to quality, since the Toulouse School of Economics, one of the top schools of its kind in France, wasn't selected for the special "funding plan". Also, note that unlike the US that wisely invested in community college in order to give training to the largest number of people, here money has been focused on a very small number of schools that train a very small number of peopl -not sure the investment will pay for itself and in times of tight budgets, as you rightly point out, maximum return on investment rather than prestige ought to be a key factor. You must read the article in that perspective.
(And yes I agree university dons in France tend to be like Brighton Beach dons in many ways, but the fact universities in France are unbelievably underfunded is a fact. The teaching is fine and while professors bemoan the bacheliers' level, many other countries would be glad to have these 'bacheliers'. :p Anyone who's been to a public university elsewhere in Europe, not to mention North America, wonders what's happening in France, especially for facs de lettres et arts which tend to be the poorest ones. But even the regular "facs de sciences" aren't quite what you'd expect from a top country.)