French university admissions: Shake-up broaches selection taboo

A raft of new measures concerning university admissions are set to come in in France from 2018, including one which moves the country towards academic selection - long seen as a taboo by the French. Here's what's changing.

French university admissions: Shake-up broaches selection taboo
Photo: AFP
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Minister for Higher Education Frédérique Vidal and Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer announced on Monday a series of changes that will affect students hoping to go to university in France. 
The changes include a step towards academic selection, long seen as a taboo issue in a country of “education for all”.
French high school graduates are guaranteed a public university place regardless of their grades, which along with negligible tuition fees has long been held up as an egalitarian policy.
Despite a failure rate of nearly 60 percent among first-year students, previous attempts to introduce academic selection have failed under opposition from student groups.

As well as the reforms, the government announced it will be investing nearly a billion euros in higher education in the next five years.
These are the measures set to be introduced from autumn 2018: 
Selecting candidates 
For oversubscribed university programmes, the French currently use a lucky draw system to select who will be admitted on to courses. 
But from autumn 2018, the controversial system is getting a overhaul in the shape of granting universities access to school records and student transcripts.

The troubles with French universities laid bare

Photo: AFP 

However the French Prime Minister was quick to say this would not mean a rigorous selection process. 
“I'm not and have never been afraid of the word 'selection', but that's not what we want for French students. The goal is not for universities to say no,” said Édouard Philippe. 
“There are many options that fall between the brutality of a selection process and the lucky draw that are much more flexible, more humane and smarter,” he added.
But for heavily oversubscribed courses, universities will be allowed to give priority to students “whose profile, motivation and plans” are the best match, Philippe said.
Universities will have the opportunity to give three responses to applications: “accepted”, “conditionally accepted” or “refused”. 
However they will only be able to refuse students in situations where courses are oversubscribed.  
France's 70-odd universities are vastly underfunded compared to its prestigious “grandes ecoles”, selective higher education institutes which tend to attract the best students.
Social security
The student specific social security scheme will become part of the general social security scheme, said Vidal on Monday.
“Our social security system is not working well. We will remove the fee that students pay and we will transfer it to the general scheme,” she said. 
University applications
High school students will not longer have to state the courses they are applying for in order of preference. 
And the number of applications they can make has been reduced from 24 to ten.
Students reveal French universities set to burst
More places 
With certain areas of study particularly oversubscribed and the government anticipating 200,000 additional students over the next five years, it aims to create 130,000 additional places over the next five-year period.
It is also aiming to target the problem by promoting some of the courses that aren't as well known because, according to Frédérique Vidal, more than 137,000 places are left empty every year. 

The government wants schools to provide better guidance for students in the process of choosing their courses, reported Le Parisien.
“At the end of the final year of school, teachers will give an opinion on each students' choice of courses. This will appear in their file and will be sent to the universities concerned,” reported the daily. 
Refresher courses
One of the main reasons behind the changes is that the French government is keen to battles the high failure rate for first year university students. 
In a bid to put an end to this, students who have been “conditionally accepted” will be asked to attend refresher courses to help get them up to scratch. 
Students will also be able to choose to do a gap year or “preparatory year” before starting their higher education.
During this period, they will benefit from student status.


Police probe opened after poster campaign against ‘Islamophobic’ lecturers at French university

The French government condemned on Monday a student protest campaign targeting two university professors accused of Islamophobia, saying it could put the lecturers in danger.

Police probe opened after poster campaign against 'Islamophobic' lecturers at French university
Illustration photo: Justin Tallis/AFP

Student groups plastered posters last week on the walls of a leading political science faculty in Grenoble that likened the professors to “fascists” and named them both in a campaign backed by the UNEF student union.

Junior interior minister Marlene Schiappa said the posters and social media comments recalled the online harassment of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty last October, who was beheaded in public after being denounced online for offending Muslims.

“These are really odious acts after what happened with the decapitation of Samuel Paty who was smeared in the same way on social networks,” she said on the BFM news channel. “We can’t put up with this type of thing.”

“When something is viewed as racist or discriminatory, there’s a hierarchy where you can report these types of issues, which will speak to the professor and take action if anything is proven,” Schiappa said.

Sciences Po university, which runs the Institute of Political Studies (IEP) in Grenoble in eastern France, also condemned the campaign on Monday and has filed a criminal complaint.

An investigation has been opened into slander and property damage after the posters saying “Fascists in our lecture halls. Islamophobia kills” were found on the walls of the faculty.

One of the professors is in charge of a course called “Islam and Muslims in contemporary France” while the other is a lecturer in German who has taught at the faculty for 25 years.