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A bumpy road to university reform in France: strikes close more than just transport

As predicted, the recent French law on university autonomy (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe MayAugust 2007) has not been easy for students to swallow. Passed in August of this year after a tussle of negotiations between Sarkozy’s government and university presidents, the law, entitled the ‘loi Pécresse’ after the Minister of Higher Education, has been deemed by students as a step toward university privatisation, a blow to university democracy, a ‘consumerisation’ of the student population, and a risk for creating unequal universities.  Various student faculties across France have voted strikes and university closures since the beginning of the month (indeed transport strikes weren’t the only drama this month), spear-headed by National Student Union of France (UNEF). Despite some peace offerings by Minister Pécresse, such as an extra 11 million euro allocation for student housing, the protests amplified, pulling into secondary school students as well (lycéens) who are primarily taking a stand against university selection, an aspect of the law intended boost university competition. In the past week, however, discord has broken out in the student camp. The national coordination of students, comprised of representatives of student general assemblies of universities, has fallen out with UNEF over who has the legitimate right to negotiate with the government and on what precise position to take. The numbers of student strikers has also started to wane. Prime Minister François Fillon, defending university reform, has explicitly stated that he finds student claims unfounded, reiterating that university presidents have agreed to this reform and are an integral part of it. Valérie Pécresse finds it paradoxical that students are speaking out at a moment when the state has committed to making universities stronger and job insertion smoother for young graduates. UNEF
Le Monde