La Rentrée

Study finds that 80 per cent of French students who work part-time fail

It’s called la rentrée in France, where university students are attending classes in higher numbers than last year. Although French education is virtually free, a study published last month by a French student union found that financial pressures on students decrease their chances of success.

Since 2008, French universities have been afflicted by student strikes—especially common in Paris—that practically cancelled exams and a semester last June, as student unions called for more public investments and governmental programs to help those who cannot afford to pay a university’s tuition fees.

“Everything is more expansive for our members,” said Union Nationale des Étudiants Français Secretary General Anne Melin. “It costs more to pay rent, more for meal tickets. This restricts universities’ accessibility.”

The Sarkozy administration attempted to cut funding for bursary programs in March, creating waves of protests across the country among university presidents and students. Shortly after, bursary programs were reinstated by the government due to public pressure and mass demonstrations.

In an interview with Le Parisien, VP of the Conférence des présidents d’universités [Universities’ Presidents Board] Jacques Fontanille said universities across France have changed how they welcome first-year students since 2008, with emphasis now put on academic aid.

“Within three years, concrete benefits to this new dynamic will be felt by our [student population],” he claimed. “It might explain why more students go back to school.”

This explanation is not shared by UNEF.

“What students pay globally to attend universities in France increases continually, while incomes and student-jobs opportunities, on the other hand, don’t,” said Melin. “One student out of two works while attending university to pay, for instance, a monthly rent. Eighty per cent of them fail several classes each year because they can’t put efficient time on their studies.”

According to UNEF, the people of France have to debate on how they want to finance universities and post-secondary education in general. The student union said it will not tolerate the financial “imbalance” if politicians don’t clearly prove they want to help students.

In Quebec, the debate over higher tuition fees is just getting started. In August, Concordia’s President and Vice-Chancellor Judith Woodsworth asked the National Assembly to increase tuition to the national average of about $5,000 annually by 2020.

University presidents around the province agree that Quebec’s tuition fees should be equal to the Canadian average. Student unions in la belle province, as well as their French counterparts, have voiced strong opposition to the tuition hikes and said they will not hesitate to protest or strike if the increases come to fruition.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 05, published September 14, 2010.