There are 32,000 students at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris, but no student center, no bookstore, no student-run newspaper, no freshman orientation, no corporate recruiting system.
The 480,000-volume central library is open only 10 hours a day, closed on Sundays and holidays. Only 30 of the library's 100 computers have Internet access.
The campus cafeterias close after lunch. Professors often do not have office hours; many have no office. Some classrooms are so overcrowded that at exam time many students have to find seats elsewhere. By late afternoon every day the campus is largely empty.
It was student discontent on campuses across France that fired up the recent protests against a law that would have made it easier for employers to dismiss young workers. College students were driven by fear that their education was worth little and that after graduation they would not find jobs.
One result was that the country's university system guaranteed a free — or almost free — college education to every high school graduate who passed the baccalauréat exam. University enrollment soared. The value of a bachelor's degree plummeted.
Tuition is about $250 a year, hardly a sufficient source of income for colleges.
But asking the French to pay more of their way in college seems out of the question. When the government proposed a reform in 2003 to streamline curriculums and budgets by allowing each university more flexibility and independence, students and professors rebelled.
They saw the initiative as a step toward privatization of higher education that they feared would lead to higher fees and threaten the universal right of high school graduates to a college education. The government backed down.
At Nanterre, Alexandre Frydlender, 19, a second-year student in law and history, complained about the lack of courses in English for students of international law. But asked whether he would be willing to pay a higher fee for better services, he replied: "The university is a public service. The state must pay."
A poster that hangs throughout the campus halls echoed that sentiment: "To study is a right, not a privilege."
Officials, entrepreneurs, professors and students alike agree that too many students are stuck in majors like sociology or psychology that make it difficult to move into a different career in a stratified society like France, given the country's troubled economy.
But flexibility is not at all the tradition in France, where students are put on fixed career tracks at an early age.
"We are caught in a world of limits where there's no such thing as the self-made man," said Claire de la Vigne, a graduate of Nanterre who is now doing graduate work at the much more prestigious Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris. "We are never taught the idea of the American dream, where everything is possible. Our guide is fear."
Monday, December 08, 2008
Pardon Monsieur, mais education est le signaling tactique
Which is one reason why French college graduates will continue to have trouble, in addition to the government ownership problems. This is from a May 2006 article in the NYT, and it has numerous examples of poor economic logic: