Monday, May 18, 2009

Universities: Summing Up

Les Echos offers a comprehensive scorecard of the university reform battle.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think Marcel Gauchet's recent view is on the mark and even allows for the hope of some sort of dénouement to the crisis. Basically, the process of profoundly reforming the higher education system has just begun and, in so many words, the class/caste conscience of university scholars & professors has awoken.

I think that the contestation is likely to continue into September, and then perhaps for a few more years taking on a normal rythm of contesting Pécresse and Sarkozy's reform proposals.

Hopefully, the maitre de conf's and professors will withhold from striking again. It was a disproportionate response this time around and would be even more damaging in future. Plus, I don't think their cause - white-collar angst - will gain much traction in the public at large.

Undoubtedly, an important process of improving universities is the question of the grandes écoles and the classes préparatoires. Thing is, the classes prépa & the GE's are deeply ingrained in the "moeurs" of the French - well, amongst the movers & shakers of French society be they readers of Les Echos or subscribers to Magazine littéraire.

If there is a "rapprochement" between the grandes écoles and universities, it will be done in such a way as to limit "les dégats" for the grandes écoles. The GE's are what work best and help France maintain its "rang" among the global superpowers of higher education.

Faced with the choice between egalitarian fairness and pride in maintaining its global prestige and "rang", my money is on the latter as being the preference of a French government, left or right. (though this somewhat an illusory opposition, I'm just trying to make a point)

With the development of research university clusters, I think that there'll be both more joint-ventures between grandes écoles & universities at the Master level (think Paris-Est) as well as the "upgrading" of a number of universities from the status of universities to the status of grande école along the lines of Paris-Dauphine. (Maybe the four Sorbonnes ?)

In all of this, there'll be selection and tuition increases on par with grande école tuitions (ie, 3,000 euros as opposed to today's 300 euro tuition).
That's when the fireworks with student protests will really begin!

When I gaze into my crystal ball, I see fewer university students in the humanities and they'll be paying a higher price but receiving a better education, a real "encradrement" and job prospects. The other students will be channeled into the IUTs, IUPs or various professional "brévets". The protests, strikes and blocages have helped channel more and more students to these undergraduate, "community college-like", programs. I think that this is part of Sarkozy's "politique du pire" of provoking the university community to commit hari-kari - or perhaps its Besancenot's tactic of heightening of the contradictions?



Chris P.

Unknown said...

Chris,
Yes, I think you hit a number of important points. The GEs will be strengthened, perhaps even enlarged, although this will come over opposition from some powerful people. The masses will be diverted into IUTs, which I understand are working better than expected and providing some hope for minorities. The universities will either shape up or be allowed to wither. And there will be more joint ventures and experiments.

Alex said...

Faced with the choice between egalitarian fairness and pride in maintaining its global prestige and "rang", my money is on the latter as being the preference of a French government, left or right.Of course the Grandes Ecoles will be preferred. As is well known, Sarko is the first major French politician in years to have a university degree; all the others are products of Sciences Po and other écoles. And Sarko is so focussed on professional training in Higher Education, that the Ecoles approach is bound to be preferred.

One point I don't understand is your remark, AG: although this will come over opposition from some powerful people. Who are the powerful people in France who are defending the universities? I don't know of any.

The universities will either shape up or be allowed to wither.The universities in France have been allowed to wither for a long time. There's no question of their being in a position to shape up.

There's a basic philosophical problem here, which is perhaps more extreme in France than elsewhere. There's a great insistence in France now on professional training in Higher Education; we are supposed to outline to the students the "débouchés" if they take our diplôme. Well, in the humanities, there are not many direct "débouchés". What proportion of historians become schoolteachers? It's the same problem everywhere, in the United States as in France, as to the role of a university. The French are just more Cartesian about it.

If the French universities are allowed to wither, the knell is also being sounded for Harvard, AG.