Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Two Contributions to the Discussion

La Vie des idées has two useful articles.

The first, by Gaëtane Richard-Nihoul, analyzes the Lisbon Treaty.

The second, by Éric Maurin, discusses formulas for financing university educations in Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, and suggests that France needs to consider a system of tuition loans with deferred repayments. Of course the very idea of tuition payment and rationing of university access by imposition of fees would be greeted in France with howls of protest, even if the payments were presented as a tax on future earnings to be borne by the beneficiaries of the proceeds. The idea that "free" public goods are not free when paid for out of national income is still greeted as radically Anglo-Saxon. Nor is the idea that returns to higher education are arguably a major source of inequality in today's world a familiar one in France. "Human capital" formation is nevertheless promoted, rightly, as a major comparative advantage of the developed world in its competition with the low-wage countries of the developing world. No industrialized country has yet to come up with a satisfactory way of dealing with this problem. In the United States, competition for access to "elite" private schools and universities has escalated to absurd levels, and tuitions keep rising. But in France, "free" access to higher education simply masks enormous failure rates and a de facto inegalitarian system of Grandes Écoles and ordinary universities. Maurin's article looks at policies that fall midway between these extremes. (The Stafford Loan system in the US bears some similarities to the systems discussed but has numerous shortcomings.)

Minority Rule?

We have no way of knowing, of course, how many students support the blockage of campuses, railway stations, etc., in the movement of protest against the Pécresse Law, but all signs are that it is a minority, even a small minority. There are strikes at only a dozen or so of the 80-odd French universities. At Rennes, where a vote on continuing the strike was held by secret ballot, the anti-strike vote was in the majority (with 62 percent, 3,280 voting out of 17,000 students total), but more radical elements are continuing the strike today anyway and insisting on an open vote in a general assembly. At Nanterre, a general assembly did vote in favor of the strike, but police were called in to remove protesters blocking the building, while other students demonstrated in favor of "freedom to study." The national strike leadership has called for students to block train stations, but the head of CGT-Cheminots advised against this move.

This site presents news from the protesters' side. And here is an anti-strike site. Archaisms are emerging on both sides, as is inevitable in this sort of conflict. For instance, the president of the University of Rennes claims that what is at stake here is nothing less than the viability of democracy in the face of a "totalitarian regime," while the student in the photo is wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt that was probably manufactured in one of the bustling mills of Chinese capitalism.