Damien Charte is a 23-year-old literature student who is an activist at the university of Clermont-Ferrand with Solidaires, the same student union that the Lyon student belonged to who set himself on fire last week in Lyon and sparked the protests.
Solidaires has a long list of things it says the government must do to put an end to the severe shortage of student housing and students’ financial difficulties, which he says is damaging students’ lives and their studies in his town and across France.
“Forty-six percent of students have to work (in a paid job) at some point in the course of their studies,” said Charte, who like many in France thinks it wrong students should have to earn money alongside their university work.
He also thinks the central government and municipalities should be able to requisition empty buildings and provide them as accommodation for students, particularly as the number of students in France keeps growing every year.
Free health care is provided at many universities in France but not all, and Charte wants it to be a universal right – and on campus – for students anywhere in the country.
Student grants should be increased, a “student salary” should be given to all students so that they can live decently while they get their education, and no-one should be evicted from official student residences during the winter: these are some more of the demands of Solidaires.
Its demands are similar to those of the left-wing but less radical UNEF, one of the major student movements in France.
Its president, Mélanie Luce, told The Local that she is not sure if the state should requisition homes for students, but that it definitely needs to build more student accommodation.
“Currently private companies are building student residences but we need the state to build them instead,” she said.
She also is in favour of some sort of “salary” for those who study, she wants an increase in monthly state grants (the highest today is around €550) and for grants to be given to more students, as currently only about a third of them receive them.
She, like Damien Charte of Solidaires, says that far too many students are in financial difficulty because they can’t make ends meet.
“We (at UNEF) have had students who were sleeping in cars or even in the street coming to us to ask for help,” she said.
“Forty-two percent of students questioned in a survey by a student health insurance group said they had not gone to see a doctor about a problem because they couldn’t afford it,” she said.
And, again like her Solidaires counterpart, she is furious at the lack of government response so far to the current student unrest.