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French university strikers call for prolonged action

Text by Marie VALLA

Latest update : 2009-04-07

Striking students and university staff have said they will not resume classes as long as the government goes ahead with its plan for a reform of French universities. Strikers are calling for a new protest on Wednesday, April 8.

Any solidarity that existed between French students and heads of universities because of their common opposition to an education reform law has come to an end.

In a statement released on April 6, the Coordination of Universities, which consists of 65 universities, 15 other higher learning institutions and 18 associations and unions, rejected the possibility of resuming classes as long as a proposed reform of the university system is maintained.

Classes have been suspended for over two months in a number of universities.

The coordination also reacted to comments made by the head of the Conference of University presidents, Lionel Collet, that enough progress had been made to justify resuming classes.

"None of our demands have been met so far," the Coordination said in its statement. "The government alone is to blame for the length of the strike (…) Moreover, the Conference of University presidents cannot unilaterally decide when classes should or should not resume.”

United marches of teachers from nursery schools to universities are scheduled for April 8 and 28, as well as May 1.

Varying stages of paralysis

The government accepted revising in part a decree reforming the status of teacher-researchers and has delayed other measures such as the reform of teacher training.

But the national backlash to the reform is not over everywhere. In several universities, blockades put together by striking students are still preventing their peers from accessing classrooms.

A blockade at Lyon I University was removed on Monday while a new one was voted in at Strasbourg University.
At Rennes II, a bastion of hardcore student activism, the head of the university and his staff were released late on Monday afternoon after being held by around a hundred radical students.


Midterm exams at stake

Relations beween striking students and university management are tense as the midterm exam season approaches. At Rennes II, strikers want a 'blank semester', where all university students would automatically pass their exams.

But the heads of universities reject these kinds of solutions out of fear that diplomas would lose their value. Instead, they support rescheduling exams, distance learning or holding classes during the Easter break.

"Our biggest worry is that the crisis negatively impacts on universities," Simone Bonnafous, a spokesperson for the Conference of university presidents told AFP last week. "The number of registrations has been down for a few years. High school graduates tend to apply to selection-based study programmes instead of general universities."

Date created : 2009-04-07