Paris: French students blockade prestigious Sciences Po university

The main entrance to the prestigious French university Sciences Po in Paris was blocked on Wednesday after students opposed to President Emmanuel Macron's education reforms occupied the building, an AFP reporter said.

Paris: French students blockade prestigious Sciences Po university
Photo: AFP

The university cited security reasons for sealing off access to the campus in the sixth district of Paris, which was once attended by Macron as well as many other leading figures in France's political elite.

“The main building of Sciences Po Paris is occupied peacefully and on a renewable basis, a decision that was taken during a general meeting of  mobilised students,” said a student statement sent to AFP overnight.

Hand-written messages on white banners hanging on the front of the building on Wednesday morning read “Students of Sciences Po against the Macron dictatorship” and “Macron your school is blocked”.

Last week, police were called to the famed Sorbonne university nearby in central Paris to clear out students who were also attempting to occupy the campus, which was the cradle of mass anti-government demonstrations in May 1968.

Students began occupying a handful of universities in March over higher education reforms introduced by Macron that give public universities the power to set admission criteria and rank applicants.

The demonstration at Sciences Po coincides with the fourth round of strikes by railway workers on Wednesday and mass demonstrations and stoppages by public sector workers on Thursday.

The current stand-off between the government and trade union-led opponents is widely seen by political analysts as a critical moment in Macron's 12-month presidency as he seeks to push through wide-ranging reforms to the public sector.

Students and leftist political opponents have criticised Macron's university policy as a violation of the principle of free education for all, but the protests have not yet reached a critical level.

Only four out of 70 universities are completely blocked and nine other university faculties have suffered disruptions, according to government figures on Tuesday. 

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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.