University strikes gradually wind down

All but six French universities have voted to re-open classes and schedule exams after four months of demonstrations over government public sector reforms that paralysed the higher education system.


After nearly four months of highly disruptive protests, France’s university strike movement is slowly winding down.


On Tuesday, Parisian universities, including the emblematic Sorbonne, voted to re-open all classes on May 25. In some universities, for example in the Burgundy city of Dijon, students have begun taking their exams.


“Classes here went on all semester despite the strike, including extra online classes, for students to be ready to take exams and earn a diploma that means something,” explains one student in Dijon.


However, some other universities remain paralysed with more radical protesters barring teachers, students and staff from accessing the premises – six universities in Nancy, Toulouse, Aix, Marseilles, Amiens and Reims remain closed, despite the approaching exam period  The protests have primarily affected universities specialised in humanities, while business and science faculties remained largely untouched.


Many students fear their exams will be cancelled and their diploma not given any credit in France or elsewhere.


For thousands of foreign students who come to study in France each year, the strikes offered an unexpected – if not always welcome - glimpse into France’s protest culture.


“There are ingrained cultural factors. The French have a propensity towards social activism,” American student Jasper Lipton told Reuters. “Selfishly, in terms of me going to Paris and not being able to attend the classes I wanted to attend, it was frustrating,” he added.


American Lindsay Cook, a French and art history student from Vassar College in New York state, attended strikers' assemblies at the Sorbonne and attempted to follow the heated debates. "It was definitely a learning experience," she told Reuters, saying though she would have preferred a normal art history course.


Some university authorities fear that the repeated disruptions in recent years will scare off foreign applicants, depriving France of quality students, international prestige and fees.


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