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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Tous les problèmes demeurent

by Jean Fabbri

None of the problems faced by the French university system have been solved.

Translated Tuesday 22 January 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

Why is the struggle against the Pécresse law (LRU – the law on the Liberties and Responsibilities of the Universities) going to continue?

By Jean Fabbri, assistant professor in mathematics at the University of Tours, and general secretary of the SNESUP-FSU university teachers trade union.

Why is the struggle against the Pécresse law (LRU – the law on the Liberties and Responsibilities of the Universities) going to continue?

Opposition to the LRU law did not end with the year 2007. Despite all the announcements by the government, relayed by innumerable microphones and TV cameras, neither the students nor the teachers and staff in higher education have seen the slightest improvement in their studying and working conditions and perspectives for months.

The 2008 budget isn’t going to change matters. The beginning of the academic year in September 2007 was gloomier than usual, except for some university presidents, who seem to have been sucked up into the U.S.-president style upheaval in French institutions initiated by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the Pécresse law (L.R.U.) The teachers and all of the staff at the universities and research institutions are truly worried.

Three essential points are at stake, around which rejection of the government’s university policy has crystallized.

1) With the “licence” reform plan (1), the education minister wanted to pull the wool over our eyes, pretending to pay renewed attention to the problems that confront students when they enter the university. For academics, i.e. the troops on the ground, who, on a daily basis, face attendance and motivation problems and problems concerning the coherence and clearness of the courses of study on offer, Education Minister Valérie Pécresse’s announcements are hot air. In contradiction to both the speeches on autonomy, repeated ad nauseum, and the expectations of a goodly number of students, the woolly multi-disciplinary format of the freshman year – redefined and transformed by the minister into a kind of “platform for passengers in transit” – provides neither the innovative content that students coming out of secondary education expect, nor a real possibility for each student to map out an authentic and unique course of study at the university. Finally, the total lack of any job creations, needed to provide an increased volume of education under improved pedagogic conditions (smaller class sizes, the introduction of new technology...) deprives the minister’s announcements of any credibility.

2) The review of the links between research institutions (CNRS, INSERM, INRA, INRIA, IRD) and the universities, the threat to the status of researchers at public research institutions, and the questions concerning the balance between the regular financing of research laboratories versus the financing of specific short-term contracts are three issues that worry researchers of all ages and in all academic disciplines.

People outside of France admire the immense melting pot formed by our diversified system of public research institutions. The fact that it could be replaced by small-scale scientific niche research – “génopôles” and nano-technologies... – is scandalous. The rate of progress proper to research and the time necessary to train new generations of working scientists are being ignored completely. Without putting it in so many words, the political authorities intend to favor a logic of scientific institutions (whose horizon is emblematically limited to the Academic Ranking of World Universities) over the logic of particular sciences.

3) Finally, the elimination of collegiate university practices as embodied in numerous and representative (because their members are elected) councils in favor of new hierarchies which will impose heavier teaching loads and violations of university regulations (which in fact are quickly losing any protective function) is typical of an entrepreneurial ideological vision which is far removed from real needs.

Despite the wave of strikes and demonstrations, which were mainly the fruit of last Fall’s student mobilization, none of the problems faced by the French university system have been solved, although these problems are henceforth cast in a new light. The government has undeniably had to put a back-pedaling spin on the questions of student selection, financing, and public service. As a result, the effort to abolish the LRU law will best proceed as a long-term struggle combining forms of mobilization (strikes, demonstrations...) that are external to the university as an institution and forms of mobilization that are based on the still-living democratic structures within the university system. Many academics, their labor union organizations, and “collectives” comprised of various personalities mean to make their demands heard right from the first days of 2008.

The struggle for science, for democracy, for the future of a country that is suffering from a lack of skilled employment that is recognized and remunerated as skilled employment in every sphere of economic activity – these are struggles that concern everyone, and not just the academic world!

(1) the “licence” degree is the equivalent of a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree.

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