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France

Universities protest in defence of ‘public service’

Text by Amara MAKHOUL

Latest update : 2009-04-28

French students and lecturers have joined medical workers to protest at government reforms they claim undermine freedoms essential to keeping education a public service and not a business. It is their eleventh such protest in three months.

French university students, lecturers and researchers joined hospital staff in Paris on Tuesday to protest reforms they claim undermine education’s role as a public service.

 

The students’ slogans mirrored those of their counterparts in healthcare: “Knowledge is not merchandise, universities are not businesses.”

 

It is the eleventh time students and lecturers have taken to the streets in three months in defence of learning and study as a public service.

 

Their complaint is that a bill ("loi LRU") proposed by the Ministry of Higher Education regarding the freedoms and responsibilities of universities aims to grant individual institutions greater financial autonomy.

 

The law also affects the role of researchers who lecture, whose hours of work would be “modulated”, giving them less freedom in their pursuit of meaningful research, the protesters say.

 
Worried by the consequences
 

One lecturer, who gave her name as Dominique, said she was worried by the consequences of the proposed reforms.

 

“Access to higher education will become less egalitarian,” she said. “We will see more selection according to how much students can afford to pay.”

 

Yann Philippe, who lectures in American Civilisation at the University of Reims, said the future of study itself was in peril.

 

“Universities are in danger,” he said. “The future of the smaller institutions is in question as is the future from students from poorer backgrounds who will find getting access to the big universities increasingly difficult.”

 

Despite months of protests and little in the way of the government backing down on its proposed reforms, the protesters remain determined to keep up the struggle.

 

“It is the deafness of the politicians that fuels our determination to keep up our protests,” Yann Philippe added.

 

Organisers estimated 12,000 students and lecturers had joined the demonstration. The police put the figure at 1,600.

 

Date created : 2009-04-28

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