Hundreds of students turning up for their first day at university in Toulouse have been sent home after their teachers refused to teach them in overcrowded lecture halls.
Toulouse III university authorities told the 1,200 youngsters to come back in a week to give them time to find extra teachers and classrooms and try and persuade some of the students that they should try another course or another university, Le Figaro reported.
"With enrolment periods stretching right until the start of September, it is impossible to predict the numbers," university president Bertrand Monthubert told the paper.
He acknowledged that with the surplus numbers it would have been very difficult for teachers on the oversubscribed Science and Nature course to do their work properly.
The UNEF students' union said overcrowding made the situation untenable for both students and teachers alike and said the students were being "taken hostage" by the university, which it accused of failing to fulfil its public service mission.
For another over-subscribed course, Toulouse III university has put in place a lottery to avoid selecting students using their high-school grades as criteria.
French state universities, which do not charge tuition fees, are forbidden by law from selecting which students they let into their courses and are obliged to allow anyone who passes the school-leaving baccalauréat exam enrol. The aim of the ban on selection is to ensure a mix of students of varying abilities and from a range of social backgrounds.
But around half of all students drop out before finishing their courses or switch to another course, with many leaving after failing first-year exams. Critics say this is a massive waste of resources that leaves university lecturers teaching poorly-motivated students in overcrowded amphitheatres.
The French elite opts for the grandes écoles, which cater to a tiny part of the student population and which prepare future administrative, scientific and business executives for their place as leaders in government or in business.
By : Rory Mulholland