In Paris, numbers – and spirits – of student strikers are waning
The protests that blocked classes at dozens of colleges ended up underscoring the need for reform in a university system that the government says is outmoded and underperforming.
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Students worry the reforms will introduce student fees, and professors worry about new measures that will trade pure research that takes time for short commercial research projects that make a profit.Skip to next paragraph
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But the reform laws are too radical, she says. "It's like getting married," she comments. "You don't want to take just any available husband."
Much of the reform impulse is based on Sarkozy's framing of a France losing its global position. The debate runs white hot each year when the Shanghai Jiao Tong University ratings on world colleges come out.
For a decade, no French school has made it into the top 50, causing great displays of irritation and hand-wringing – and warnings on innovation, job creation, and competitiveness. (Much of the kind of research that gives high marks to schools in other nations takes place outside French colleges.)
But reforms are also about parity and the two-tier French system. Elite schools with harsh entrance exams take elite students and are generously funded. Some elite schools have 150 students – while the Sorbonne university system has 77,000.
The quality of education offered to new populations of suburban students is not the same, and there's little middle ground between elite schools and the mammoth one-size- fits-all university system.
"Reform in the long run is in the interest of students and families in France," argues Bernard Bobe, a chemist at the École Nationale Supérieure who has closely followed higher education in France.
In mid-May, as the current semester looked lost to tens of thousands of students, the statement by the 29 leading university scientists and intellectuals offered a kind of radical compromise, calling for more money but better accountability, regulations that will end cronyism, and putting the university system at the heart of graduate study.
Mr. Bobe, who agrees that reforms are needed, disagrees with new laws that he says give too much power to newly autonomous college presidents in the area of academic judgment, saying that the presidents should stick more closely to administrative matters. (In US colleges, such judgments would be department or faculty senate matters).
He also says that laws that require professors to do more teaching, no matter how involved or brilliant their research is, create a morale problem and a disincentive among faculty.