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Politics

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « Vers des universités asservies aux entreprises »

by Vincent Defait

A Move to Subjugate Universities to Private Companies

Translated Sunday 30 December 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

Higher education. An interview with Igor Zamichiei of the Communist Students Union on the growing student mobilization.

Student opposition to the law “on the freedoms and responsibilities of the universities” is growing. Igor Zamichiei, the national secretary of the Communist Students Union, explains the situation.

French prime minister François Fillon has stated that the student mobilization will “not go anywhere,” all the more so as the government has programmed “a 1.8-billion-euro supplementary budget” for research and higher education. How do you react to that?

Igor Zamichiei: 1.8 billion when? To do what? No one knows. In view of [French president] Nicolas Sarkozy’s statements on his plans for education, it is to be feared that this funding will depend on results. The reality is that not enough money has been invested in higher education.

Students are protesting the law on the autonomy of the universities, and yet, this autonomy already exists...

Igor Zamichiei: Apart from a few positive points, this is a law that imposes a totally new framework for the universities. It is likely to reverse the opening of the universities to large numbers of people and the beginning of democratization in higher education, two advances of the past few decades, while creating a first- and second-class university system. In reality, this law isn’t going to give universities more autonomy; it’s going to subjugate them to the interests of private enterprise. Even the president of Harvard University in the U.S.A. has stated that a university should not be reduced to a line item in the next quarter’s financial statement. Otherwise, universities are going to be pressured regarding their teaching, the schools and departments they finance, etc.

What do you mean?

Igor Zamichiei: If the government is opening up this opportunity for private funds [to invest in the public universities], it’s especially in order to withdraw from higher education. This is what has happened in other European countries after this kind of reform. The fact is, the universities haven’t got thousands of sources of funding – it’s going to be limited to student tuition, local and regional government, and private business. The latter will attach conditions to the money it invests, in such a way that university courses will produce a labor force suited to a company’s activity. In concrete terms, the universities and their schools and departments are going to be competing in a classic supply-and-demand situation. In Nicolas Sarkozy’s scheme of things, there’ll be big universities that won’t have any problem getting funding and small universities that’ll have a much harder time and which will be forced to limit themselves to two-year college-type programs.

The government often cites the example of other European countries. Are these examples persuasive?

Igor Zamichiei: In the United Kingdom, the universities that focused on short-term and market-oriented teaching programs have gone bankrupt. In Italy, this kind of reform has resulted in a sharp rise in student tuition, with all the consequences that that implies in terms of students being selected according to their social class. So, is this persuasive – no, not at all.


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