French Students Protest Against Reforms

On Thursday, French students joined public sector and union workers in protesting the proposed reforms of French President Emmanuel Marcon. The students are upset about potential changes to the university admission process.

About 70 students in Paris have been occupying the grounds of the Sciences Po University. This was just one of many actions by university students across the country, who do not want President Marcon to make college admissions more selective and more based on merit.

Currently, high school students apply to enter the state-run university system through a website. which matches students to schools based on the preferences of students, if there are sufficient openings at the schools. If there are insufficient openings, then students are matched to openings at random. While this system makes all students equal, it is not without its problems. For example, one third of university students drop out of college within the first year.

Frédérique Vidal, who is the French minister of higher education, says that the current system is not only unfair, it also makes no sense at all. He further says that incoming students need to be better guided and properly informed.

The French university system has been faltering recently, especially in comparison to other systems around the world. In a recent ranking of universities worldwide, only one French school — Paris Sciences and Letters (PSL) — made it into the top 100 schools, and it was ranked 72.

Tuition at French universities is far less than it is in many other countries, but critics say that the lack of selectivity leads to many students failing out, which in turn leads to the system having a bad reputation. Also, satisfaction levels among international students at French universities are among the lowest in Europe.

The president's proposed reforms would allow public universities in France to begin accepting students purely on merit. The president insists that only a small minority of students are actually taking part in protests and sit-ins, which have effectively shut down the schools. According to a poll of 16,000 students attending the University of Strasbourg — one of the schools shut down by the protests — 72% of students would like classes to resume.

The protests have reminded many of those that occurred 50 years earlier in the spring of 1968, which spiraled into nationwide strikes. Some of the current protestors are even reenacting the events of that period.

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