French university dean and professor charged after students beaten by masked thugs

The dean of Montpellier university has been formally charged after being accused of abetting a violent attack on students protesting education reforms that have sparked demonstrations at campuses around the country.

French university dean and professor charged after students beaten by masked thugs
Photo: AFP

In the past few weeks, protesters have shut down or severely disrupted, classes at several universities over more stringent entrance requirements introduced by President Emmanuel Macron.

Universities in Paris, Montpellier, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes and Nancy have all been affected to various degrees.

The situation escalated sharply last week in Montpellier, where hooded men armed with bats stormed a lecture theatre to dislodge students staging a

Videos shared on Facebook showed several men, their faces concealed, hitting students in the theatre of the law faculty with sticks and bats.



Three people were injured in the skirmish, which has sparked solidarity “anti-fascist” demonstrations by students at other universities, including in the northern city of Lille.

On Wednesday, the university dean, Philippe Petel, was arrested along with a professor, Jean-Luc Coronel, on suspicion of abetting or participating in the eviction.

They were both charged in connection with the affair on Thursday, public prosecutor Christophe Barret said.

Several students claimed they recognised several professors among the attackers.

Petel, who was suspended by Higher Education Minister Frederique Vidal, denies the allegations.

(Students at Montpellier raise their hands for a vote on the ongoing protests. AFP)

The attack has sharpened tensions between supporters and opponents of the protests that began in February over a new law that for the first time introduces an element of selection on merit for entrance to university.

In France, students can apply for any university course as long as they pass their Baccalaureate, the final exam of secondary school.

High dropout rate

With lecture halls bursting at the seams and over a third of students dropping out in their first year of university, Macron's centrist government has sought to tighten standards.

Starting this year, universities can set basic requirements for admission to three-year degree programmes.

Students who do not meet the criteria will be offered a place on condition that they agree to take extra classes.

Opponents argue that the restrictions are elitist and penalise students from poorer backgrounds.

But their sit-ins have caused frustration on some campuses, with students in Montpellier insisting on their “right to study” as end-of-year exams loom.

Vidal, the higher education minister, set out “two red lines” Thursday on French radio: “no violence on campus… and allowing the university year to end and exams to be held in the best possible conditions”




France to make period products free for students

The French government said on Tuesday it would make period products free for students, joining a global drive to end "period poverty" - the inability to pay for menstrual protection.

France to make period products free for students
Last year, Scotland became the first country in the world to offer free universal access to period products. Photo: Andy Buchanan / AFP

Higher Education Minister Frederique Vidal said that machines containing free tampons, sanitary towels and other period products would be installed in student residences and university health services in the coming weeks.

She added that the government aimed to make period protection “completely free of charge” for all by the start of the next academic year in September.

In November, Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products free for all, blazing a trail that inspired feminists and anti-poverty campaigners around the world to also take up the issue of period poverty.

In England, free period products are available in all primary and secondary schools – a move New Zealand said last week it too would implement.

In December, President Emmanuel Macron had promised to also address the issue of period poverty.

Commenting on the plight of homeless women, he noted that “the fact of having your period in the street and to not be able to buy something to protect yourself and preserve your dignity” added to the humiliation they suffered.

The move to make sanitary protection free for students comes amid a growing focus on youth poverty following shock images of food banks being swamped by hard-up students due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many students say they are struggling to make ends meet after losing part-time jobs in cafes and restaurants which have been closed for months due to the health crisis.