University protests spread as professors add support

University students are continuing to protest against a new selection law across the country today, as over 400 professors and teachers join with them to publish an open letter against the “absurd reforms”.

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Students and teachers at universities including Paul-Valéry in Marseille, Jean-Jaurès in Toulouse, Paris 1 (Tolbiac), Paris 8, Bordeaux, Lille, and Nancy, have spoken out against the new measures proposed by minister for higher education, Frédérique Vidal.

The new law, called the Orientation et Réussite des Étudiants (ORE), is set to come into force from September 2018 after being announced in the Journal Officiel on March 9, and will impose a selection process for courses with more demand than places.

Using a new digital platform, named Parcoursup, it is intended to allow universities to decide whether to accept or reject eligible students based on “previous training” and “ability”.

The government says this will ensure students have the “competence required” to take their chosen course, and decrease high dropout levels.

This is in contrast to the current system, which allows any student with a high school Baccalaureate qualification (with a pass mark of 10/20) to enter university automatically.

Protests at the change have spread through campuses after a sit-in in a Marseille amphitheatre on March 22-23 erupted in violence as students were allegedly dispersed by men brandishing batons.

Professors and teachers have joined students in their protests, with many refusing to use the new Parcoursup system. Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne has already said it will not process students, and will follow the instructions from union Snesup-FUS to simply “say yes to all holders of the Baccalaureate”.

Today, an open letter from 425 professors and teachers to newspaper FranceInfo has denounced the “absurd reform”, and explained why they are striking in support of the students.

The letter explained that “we reject all forms of selection to university entrance” and called the new law “hypocritical”.

It said that the new system would not solve the problem of high-demand courses, and argued that the government should devote time and money to funding higher education better and fighting instead against the “degradation of superior education over the past 20 years”.

It added: “We are told welcome more students to university [who do not] have the [required] level...would be a waste of public money. But isn't the purpose of national education to educate and train? What would our role be if it were only to provide courses to those who have no problems, and who are fortunate enough to [already] have the level and talent for higher education?

“Many students who did brilliant studies at university were not outstanding high school students and did not receive a good Baccalaureat. Would they have succeeded if [this new] selection had been applied then?”

In response to the growing opposition, Ms Vidal said: “Debates and discussions are to be expected; we are talking about universities; debates must take place. But when violence becomes involved, that is where it becomes unacceptable.”

Protests and strikes are expected to continue for some time, with more protests called by unions Unef and CNE for April 14, to coincide with ongoing strikes by the SNCF cheminot workers. Students also plan to join together for a “national day of strikes” on April 19.

Scheduled examinations are still set to go ahead regardless, Ms Vidal said, with alternative examination halls and campuses being arranged for blocked universities. In Montpellier, where protests have occupied the whole campus, students will even be permitted to take exams online.

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