Overcrowded French university shuts down

Youngsters turning up for their very first day at university got a rude shock when the overcrowded college in Toulouse told them to go home and come back in a week.

Overcrowded French university shuts down
University leaders shut down a school in southern France because there were too many students. Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP
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

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Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules

Around three-quarters of French teachers plan to go on strike onThursday to protest the government's shifting rules on Covid testing for students, forcing the closure of half the country's primary schools, a union said Tuesday.

Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules
Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP

The strike led by the Snuipp-FSU union, the largest among primary school teachers, comes after the latest of several changes on testing and isolation requirements for potential Covid cases announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex late Monday.

After seeing long lines of parents outside pharmacies and labs in recent days to test children in classes where a case was detected, Castex said home tests could now be used to determine if a student could return to school.

But teachers say class disruptions have become unmanageable with the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

“Students cannot learn properly because attendance varies wildly, and a hybrid of in-house and distance learning is impossible to put in place,” the Snuipp-FSU said, adding that absent teachers are not being replaced.

It is also demanding the government provide facemasks for staff, including the more protective FFP2 masks, and CO2 monitors to check if classrooms are sufficiently ventilated.

“Not only does the current protocol not protect students, staff or their families, it has completely disorganised schools,” the union said, claiming that classes have effectively been turned into “daycare centres.”

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has said the government is doing everything possible to avoid outright school closures that could cause havoc for parents and jeopardise learning for thousands, especially those in low-income families.

“I know there is a lot of fatigue, of anxiety… but you don’t go on strike against a virus,” Blanquer told BFM television on Tuesday.

As of Monday some 10,000 classes had been shut nationwide because of Covid cases, representing around two percent of all primary school classes, Blanquer said.