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Is it a cliché that no one strikes better than the French?

The answer would seem to be “no”, knowing that French universities have been facing strikes by lecturers and students for six weeks now and that the higher education protesters joined, on 19 March, schoolteachers and other workers from the public and private sectors in a one-day national strike against the government’s management of the economy.

The original bone of contention for the higher education protesters seemed to have been the litigious decree on lecturers’ statute changes (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, February 2009). But following the concessions made by government in this respect (rewriting the decree and annulling the foreseen job-cuts), it looks like the proposed teacher training reforms, e.g. raising the minimum qualification for schoolteachers from bachelor to master level, have become the main source of restlessness. What is unprecedented about the current protests is the “active occupation” of universities by lecturers and students alike. Instead of blocking access to higher education institutions, as expected, the demonstrators are holding alternative seminars, debates, cours hors les murs (classes in theatres, train stations, etc.), conferences and think tanks, to raise the awareness of the population of the implications of the foreseen reform.

While no one knows when we will see the end of this, one thing seems clear: this is not a customary French strike.