Thursday, December 11, 2008

Discontent in the Universities

In a previous post I referred to rumors of growing student discontent. It seems that university presidents are also unhappy. The overall university budget has increased, but the increases have been very unequally distributed. At the same time the universities are being asked to compete one another, as greater autonomy is devolved to their presidents. One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist or university president to see the handwriting on the wall: the ministry retains the power to distribute the cash, but the universities are left to use whatever they get to compete with one another. The favored institutions will soon outperform the disfavored ones, and the minister will have every reason to close some of the latter. Punishment is meted out at one remove, and the ministry can disclaim responsibility for choosing winners and losers on the grounds that the losers will have demonstrated their inability to compete.

This may prove to be an effective policy, but it's not a forthright one.


gregory brown said...

Its also, for what its worth, an increasingly common approach for university presidents in the US towards divisions or colleges -- the administrative euphemism is "resource-based management."

Anonymous said...

The suggestion that there is the possibility of closing some universities struck me. But perhaps it shouldn't have since, historically speaking, universities exist at the behest of the State, and even before that the king. Before the abolition of "les corps intermédiaires", the colleges of the U.of Paris and provincial universities in the wake of the Revolution, the royal court made or broke institutions of higher learning - think of the Académies de Saumur or of Montauban (Protestant enclaves).

In its rush to overcome problems in the late 1960s & early 1970s, l'Etat built new universities or enlargened several others. In my opinion, the results have been mediocre at best.

Its an open secret, universities are not the locus of grooming and preparing the leaders & creators of tomorrow - the grandes écoles, grands établissements, écoles de commerce and écoles de génie serve these purposes. They are THE priority for maintaining France’s competitive advantages and without a doubt, these schools perform well and have content student bodies. Their students’ diplomas - all their hard work, their sweat and tears – will pay off.

Generously speaking, universities were created to supply skilled mid-managerial white collar labor for an economy ressembling that of France in 1970. Things have changed but the bureaucratic inertia - the proverbial mammoth of French education - has become a huge beast impervious to reform other than that which serves to increase the size of its budget & student bodies. And this regardless of the economic or technological context.

For many if not most students leaving the UFRs, the IUTs and IUPs, their job prospects are between bleak and less than "génial" - CDDs and, at best, 1500 euros/month. Maybe when they retire at 70, they'll have arrived at a job paying 3000 euros/month. Their diplomas aren't worth as much as those in the schools of commerce, engineering & grandes écoles - and they know that.

I don't know what really to think of this possibility of closing universities but the more I think of it, the less shocking it is. From my experience teaching in French universities, I'd say between 10% and 20% of students in the UFRs (universities properly speaking), as well as the IUTs, shouldn't be there. They're either too stupid or too immature to concentrate & work as college students should. (The IUPs seem to be full of solid students). I think this extra 10-20% is close to that percentage of students who obtain their baccalauréat due to bureaucratic number fixing, ie lowering of standards in order to show that "hey, more kids are succeeding!". As if.

I believe there are between 70 and 80 universities (depending on how one defines it according to the infinite types of "statuts"). The French State simply cannot be expected to maintain so many schools whose purpose is to provide a minima of quality education. It is likely, however, that l’Etat will continue to trudge along keeping its mediocre universities and – in a wholly not forthright manner – it will continue to profess the lie that they provide their students a quality education.

Really, I empathize with French kids because they deserve more than that. Their universities do them a disservice. On the other hand, I don’t see the current government (nor a hypothetical PS-led government), the staff & faculty unions, the student unions and the school administrations capable of resolving the problems that afflict them. The sclerosis is too great - I really do believe it is a task too great for them, collectively speaking, to resolve.

The result? The middle class French will increase the drive to augment enrolment at the écoles de commerce, genie, grands établissements, the Instituts catholiques, etc. as well as the provide impetus to founding new schools outside the purvey of the public university school system.

FYI, a very good site on French institutions of higher learning:

Chris P.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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