Friday, February 18, 2011

L'Association Française des Fundraisers

Well, I suppose that something as Anglo-Saxon as extracting lucre from private donors can only be rendered in franglais: l'Association française des fundraisers. I learned about this organization from an article in Le Figaro. So it seems that the sacrosanct concept of "equality" in higher education will be nibbled away at the edges rather than confronted head on. This is as it must be in France, as I discover every time I bring this subject up. Suggestions such as charging tuition or introducing selective admissions are routinely greeted with cries that such heresies are anti-egalitarian, anti-republican, and anti-French. Yet one's head has to be buried deeply sous le pavé, dans le sable, to fail to see the glaring inequities in the existing system, not only between the universities and the grandes écoles but between the better- and worse-financed universities. The acceptance of le fundraising will only exacerbate the inequities without imposing any fairness on the selection and retention process.

We read, moreover, that "sur quatre-vingt-trois universités, 39 fondations ont depuis été créées, qui auraient levé, au total, environ 80 millions d'euros." I had to rub my eyes once or twice. Could millions possibly be a misprint for milliards? Alas, no. I know that we have a warped perspective on these things in the US, but really, 80 million for 83 universities? Better than nothing, I suppose. But ask a young microbiologist, nanotechnologist, or condensed matter physicist what it takes to start up even a modest lab. Job candidates in the US arrive with laundry lists of necessary equipment that often add up to more than $1 million. And this money is supposed to be coming from French industry, which presumably knows what things cost. Here is further evidence, if any were needed, that France, for all its lip service to the importance of R&D in securing the country's economic future and capitalizing on its very real advantages in human capital, has yet to get serious about what it takes to be competitive. With all the recent talk about holding down wage increases in order to meet the German challenge, you'd think that someone would recognize the urgency of meeting the longer-term challenge of remaining near the technological frontier. A visionary leadership would recognize this as a top priority. Instead, we have l'Association des fundraisers.


Mark said...

I'm sure from the point of view of French corporations, there is simply no imperative to invest in French education since they can just hire graduates from America of whatever nationality. There is not sentimentalism in business, so who would care a stuff where their human resources came from as that hideous expression goes? This is a political problem; forget fundraising in France from the private sector.

Anonymous said...

Mark: I saw a tv report the other day and Grandes Ecoles graduates who direct corporations LAUGH at graduates from other systems, unless they've got a grande ecole degree first (grande ecole + US university = great, but French university + US university = struggle).
The Grandes Ecoles/universités divide is apparent also in this lack of interest: French Grandes Ecoles don't focus on research, so Grandes Ecoles graduates who head them don't see why, by and large, they should invest in R&D done in the "inferior" universities.
Keep in mind that the reputation of a strictly "université" undergrad degree is such that kids try everything to escape it - BTS, IUTs, école postbacc etc - and by doing so, end up doing better than if they had attended the actual "université".

Mark said...

Yes the snobbery of French grand ecoles graduates is a wonderful thing and I'm sure the hilarity of poly techniciens, enarques and co might impresses one or two people apart from themselves, but I doubt it. This is the kind of inward looking that is the problem in France, not the solution. As far as graduates from the Grandes Ecoles heading all French corps: Carlos Ghosn is certainly a foreigner. How'd he get the job? He must actually be competent at something other than laughing at people. Now as far as Renault or another French company voluntarily investing in French universities, I just don't see it. Why, when they can just hire expertise in from where ever they want.

Mark said...

Oops. I take the Carlos Ghosn part back: he is a polytechnicien! I made the assumption that because he came from a top post in Japan that he wasn't. I still stand by the notion that the French elite's lock on government and business isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread.