Category Archives: neoliberalism

The world war of the intellect

A snippet from my dissertation chapter on the French university strike of 2009.

Nicholas Sarkozy was elected President of the Republic on May 6, 2007, and took office on May 16. He appointed Valérie Pécresse, a legislator and former UMP spokeswoman, as Minister of Research and Higher Education, and on May 18th, at a meeting of the Conseil des Ministres (Council of Ministers), officially assigned her to lead a reform of university autonomy. Such a reform had already been widely discussed during the presidential campaign, attracting support from Sarkozy, the Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal, and the centrist MoDem candidate François Bayrou. They differed, of course, on policy details. Royal emphasized a “national framework” that preserved more of a role for the French state, and for permanent institutional funding, particularly for research. Sarkozy, according to Le Monde, “wanted to go faster,” shifting research funding and universities alike towards a contract-based, short-term model. But policy differences and political tempos aside, there was a widespread public discourse on the necessity of university reform. “This [traditional university] system worked in its time, but the world has changed”: such was one fairly typical formulation that had appeared in Le Figaro earlier that year, in an op-ed by Vincent Berger, a French physicist active in university governance who later became president of the University of Paris-7 in 2009. In the face of globalized economic competition, Berger explained, “our country must maintain competitive and triumphant industries,” and he argued for closer links between research and industrial production, along with a better “equation” [adéquation] between economic demand and university supply.

The frequency of such arguments in political discourse would give the Sarkozy administration a powerful naturalizing argument for its university reforms, a chance to ally itself with the spirit of its time. Pécresse, as we will see, would frequently cast her reforms as a matter of obvious, objective necessity. But at the same time, there was a discourse of urgency and immediacy about the process. The Sarkozy administration wanted to put in place a number of major state reforms, dealing with everything from the university to labor regulations and criminal laws; and this multiplicity would be amplified by a very rapid governmental timeline.  “We’ll do all the reforms at the same time, and not one after the other,” Sarkozy remarked at the  May 18th meeting of his Conseil des Ministres. The Sarkozy government was also deeply committed to a particular fiscal policy, one typically called “austerity” by its opponents. State spending was to be cut; 50% of retiring state workers were not supposed to be replaced; and national debt was supposed to decrease. Even in such a moment, though, the university and research sector was slated for budget increases. It was said to be the government’s “primary fiscal priority.”

Still, it was generally understood that university reforms, whatever their fiscal and political priority, were a fraught topic. “Even if the chosen moment seems favorable,” remarked an editorialist in Le Figaro, “Valérie Pécresse will have to show great conviction and determination to succeed in such a sensitive subject. Numerous projects, for decades, have been abandoned or emptied of their content, so tenacious are the resistances, so much are they nourished by dogmatism.” In an initial effort to prevent discord, Prime Minister Fillon initially gave assurances that the two most controversial topics, selective admissions (termed “sélection”) and tuition hikes, would not be included in the reform. In spite of this, as Pécresse began official ministerial consultations at the end of the month, however, academic unions were already voicing concerns about the temporality of haste that the government was so attached to.

Thus on May 25th Bruno Julliard, the president of UNEF (the largest student union), would “deplore the short time allowed for negotiations.” The Prime Minister, nevertheless, announced that the university reform would be taken up by Parliament that July. Soon thereafter, the Intersyndicale issued an official communiqué attacking the speed of the reform: “The chosen calendar permits neither a debate about the contents and priorities of a university reform, nor a genuine negotiation with the university community. The signatory organizations [of the intersyndicale] solemnly demand that the law not be hastily submitted during the next special session of Parliament this July.” Pécresse nevertheless continued on the official calendar, calling a meeting of the National Council of Research and Higher Education (CNESER) to review her reform proposals on June 22nd. To her surprise, perhaps, after seven hours of debate, her proposed reform was rejected by the assembled representatives of the university community.

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Fetishized and degraded academic labor

The precarity of academic workers, far from being a merely local or institutional problem in academia, indicates the foundational contradiction of universities’ missions in neoliberalizing times: the university becomes an instrument for fetishizing labor, fetishizing work at the same time as it degrades and undermines labor, degrades and undermines work, making it unavailable, destroying it. It destroys precisely that which it calls for creating. Though of course some would argue that the neoliberal desire for labor is precisely for precarious, flexible labor, so in that sense the university produces that which it models.

Between Crisis and New Public Management

A while ago I wrote a book review in LATISS of an interesting 2010 essay collection that appeared in France, Higher Education between New Public Management and Systemic Crisis (L’enseignement supérieur entre nouvelle gestion publique et crise systémique), edited by Annie Vinokur and Carole Sigman. I thought I’d post the text of my review here in case anyone’s interested in a little glimpse of some of the French critical literature on university reforms. I rather like writing book reviews, as a genre, and it’s sort of the traditional way for people finishing their dissertations to dip their toes in the publishing water, as it were.

So without any further ado…

As the neoliberal university reforms associated with the Bologna Process have come to France over the last decade, a Francophone wave of critical social research has emerged to analyse and resist them. It tends to be a hybrid genre, mixing traditional social science styles with explicit and implicit political engagements; this particular collection originates in the work of an interdisciplinary, multinational research network called FOREDUC, run by Annie Vinokur and Carole Sigman at the University of Paris-10. The general intellectual orientation here could be termed critical policy studies, with many of the authors coming from political science; the focus is less on neoliberalism as a doctrine than on New Public Management (NPM) as a mode of contract- and incentive-oriented state policy mechanisms. The volume’s underlying analytical problem is to explain how neoliberal university reforms at once converge and diverge across national contexts; as the editors put it, ‘contrasting our experiences shows that, while management principles in higher education and research strongly tend to converge, the doctrine works out differently on the ground depending on the local balance of power between the actors involved, and depending on the intensity of the stakes of international competitiveness in the education industry’ (p. 484). This general process of homogenisation and differentiation, one familiar to anthropologists of globalisation in other spheres (Mazzarella 2004: 349–352), admits of multiple theoretical explanations; and the great merit of this volume is to constitute a virtual laboratory in which the authors’ differing intellectual approaches can be compared and synthesised.

Vinokur’s article takes the most macro perspective here, working in a tradition of critical political economy that seems influenced by Marxism. She gives a historical genealogy of the contemporary ‘knowledge economy’, beginning with medieval guilds’ monopoly on their professional expertise, and proceeding to trace a series of attempts to break the autonomy of labour and appropriate workers’ ‘tacit knowledge’. Higher education today, in her view, has become a key boundary zone between the reproduction of capital and the reproduction of labour; she asserts provocatively that the function of post-war university massification has been to afford ‘not the mythical adequation of education to employment, but the production of a surplus of qualified workers on a global scale, necessary – though not sufficient – to put pressure on salaries and working conditions’ (pp. 495–496). And NPM becomes functional within this logic of capital, she argues, when firms find themselves needing a ‘strong political relay to deconstruct the social State’ (p. 497), whose twentieth-century social-welfare institutions could otherwise obstruct the push for a cheap qualified workforce, for newly commodifiable research and for new business opportunities within the higher-education sector.

Now, the difficulty with this functionalist analysis of NPM is that it tends to obscure the institutional and cultural autonomies that universities do retain in the face of economic imperatives. It would be helpful for Vinokur to elaborate how she sees the relationship between the global and the local. But the project remains, in my view, a very useful step towards a general analysis of higher education in terms of labour-capital relations. And at times her functionalism is more tempered: in an interesting historical aside, she remarks that NPM’s use of incentives was inspired by a ‘parental technology for managing recalcitrant children’, and hence has a sort of contingent historical origin. One learns from reading Vinokur’s article that while NPM is indeed functional, its (historical) origin and its (structural) function are quite separate things.

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The moment of human resources

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, French debates over university reform have often dwelt on the question of human resources, and even on the very desirability of thinking about universities in those terms. The advocates of a more “modern,” “competitive” university — who are themselves often products of business and public administration schools — have generally tended to take such a perspective for granted. In an exemplary moment, Valérie Pécresse, in January 2009, remarked that

‎”… je sais que les ressources humaines sont le cœur de l’université. Naturellement, dans toute organisation les ressources humaines sont au cœur du système. Mais dans un monde où la production intellectuelle est tout, plus que jamais, « il n’est de richesse que d’hommes ». Ces hommes et ces femmes qui font l’université, je les écoute et je les entends.”

[“… I know that human resources are at the heart of the university. Naturally, human resources are at the heart of the system in any organization. But in a world where intellectual production is everything, more than ever, ‘the only source of wealth is men.’ These men and women who are making the university, I’m listening to them.”]

If you believe that ideology is at its most effective when it is perceived to be entirely natural and universal, then this remark was an ideological moment par excellence. For Pécresse’s assumption here is that every human organization depends on “human resources”; she makes no distinctions between organizations governed by contemporary business logic and any other kind of organization. And in invoking a 16th century proverb by Jean Bodin, she certainly suggests that the logic of human resources long predates contemporary capitalism.

At the same time, Pécresse’s discourse was hybrid. Even as it placed the image of human resources at the heart of the university, it allied itself with a very traditional conception of academic life: the conception where the faculty are the university, where the university is constitutively a site of the production of knowledge, of “intellectual production.” The logic is one of an extension of the traditional logic: yes, men and women make the university — as the traditional definition would have it — but what they are doing is (intellectual) production that constitutes wealth — which inserts a much more business-centered view of human activity into the traditional definition.

Pécresse generally seemed to believe in the success of her hybrid discourse. Her detractors tended not to, seeing her as an agent of naked “corporatization of higher education” (as it is called in English), and I suppose viewing her gestures towards traditional views of academia as idle rhetoric.

OECD on French university reforms

I’ve had the impression for some time that French faculty critics of government university reforms tended to view them as a neoliberal project originating with the OECD, but until this week I’d never looked into the OECD’s actual position on France. It turns out that they have taken a stance that supports the government reforms pretty much 100%. The following is from the OECD’s economic summary of France, done in 2009:

A number of significant reforms have been launched recently to breathe new life into public research by increasing its funding, but also by strengthening its organisation and governance. Creation of the Research and Higher Education Evaluation Agency (AERES) has laid the foundation for evaluating universities and research laboratories more systematically against criteria such as publications and patents. It is important that this principle be reinforced. Indeed, the recent decision to upgrade university career profiles is an opportunity to raise the performance bar for the entire teaching-research profession. The reform underway at the CNRS, designed to enhance its co-operation with universities and other national research organisations, is a welcome step and should also help improve the productivity of public research. As well, the newly created National Research Agency should be supported and its role expanded inasmuch as it promotes project-oriented public research, which will make for a more balanced allocation of resources in comparison with a situation where funds are awarded essentially on an institutional basis.

France is in fact the leader among G7 countries for the share of higher education institutions in the total number of patents filed by inventors living in the country, but few of them are actually brought to market. The spillover effects of public research could be enhanced by creating technology transfer and licensing offices in the universities, as a useful supplement to the “business incubators” policy. Finally, the “Universities Freedom and Responsibility Act” has laid the initial groundwork for autonomy in the French universities, which should boost the quality and efficiency of higher education. Notwithstanding the many helpful measures taken to date, however, the effort to reinforce university autonomy should be pursued further, particularly in the areas of budgeting and hiring and remuneration of personnel. This goal would be well served by allowing the universities greater freedom to select incoming students and to set tuition fees. Higher fees should be paired with an expansion of the system of students loans recently introduced.

I fear that this bit of text may present a spurious sort of transparency for an international reader. What strikes me as interesting, and may come as news to some of you, is that basically every claim here is presented as the epitome of simple common sense and yet every single claim would be radically contested by French faculty critics. Just to give a quick list, I’ve seen critiques of the National Research Agency and the idea of project-based research funding; I’ve seen critiques of the Research and Higher Education Evaluation Agency and of evaluation by quantitative measures of research productivity; I’ve seen critiques of the reorganization of the CNRS, and certainly of the idea of trying to orient research more closely around patents and commercialization; and above all there was an entire protest movement in 2009 dedicated to stopping the law on university “autonomy.” This movement, moreover, was particularly focused on stopping tuition increases (which the OECD supports) and stopping the deregulation of academic labor (which the OECD describes optimistically as “autonomy… in hiring and remuneration of personnel”).

My point here isn’t to take sides or to go through the pros and cons of these policy decisions, but simply to make the broader observation that the OECD writes as if none of their recommendations were in the least politically controversial, as if they were the product of a pure pragmatic desire to do whatever is most “helpful,” whatever will “breathe new life” into the system… as if all the critics were a bunch of fossils and the OECD was simply the voice of impartial practicality. It seems to me that, whether or not they’re right on the substantive issues, this elision of policy disagreement is telling, and intellectually unfortunate.

Coca-Cola and postwar market liberalization

From time to time I find myself reading about episodes in French history that, while not strictly related to the university system, nonetheless seem like important points of historical reference. This one will, I guess, probably be well known to any French historian, but it was a surprise to me. It has to do with the economic politics of Coca-Cola’s arrival in France in the period just after the Second World War. Let me quote a long passage from Robert Gildea’s handy France since 1945, which is where I found out about this:

The Americans insisted on the right political conditions for aid [direly needed by post-war Europe]; they also demanded the right economic conditions. These were imposed by a series of missions in each European country receiving Marshall Aid… and bilateral agreements made with each recipient power. That with France was signed in June 1948, and the three brief ministries in power between 1948 and 1949 all pursued policies of economic austerity, balancing the budget by spending cuts and tax rises, and price and wage controls to bring down inflation. The Americans also required that all barriers to their exports and investment be removed, so France was inundated not only by American products but also by propaganda selling the American way of life. ‘Will France become an American colony?’ asked one book in 1948, exposing the threat from American Westerns and gangster movies, children’s comics such as Donald, Tarzan, and Zorro, and magazines controlled by Reader’s Digest, called Sélection in France.

The French won a minor victory in September 1948, when the French boxer Marcel Cerdan became world champion by beating an American in Jersey City. The real battle, however, was fought over Coca-Cola. Fed to GIs during the war, it was then the object of a sustained campaign to penetrate European markets. Coca-Cola was not simply a product, it was an image: that of the consumer society, on the wings of mass advertising, ‘the essence of capitalism’ in every bottle according to its president, James Farley, a weapon in the global ideological battle against Communism. Bottling operations were started in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg in 1947, but in France there was great opposition, first from the Communist party, which argued that they would become ‘Coca-colonisés’ and that the distribution network would double as a spy network, and second from the winegrowing, fruit-juice, and mineral-water interests. The French government, concerned by the trade deficit and the repatriation of profits, turned down requests by Coca-Cola to invest in France in 1948 and 1949, and banned the ingredients from Casablanca.

A bill was tabled by the deputy mayor of Montpellier on behalf of the winegrowers to empower the health ministry to investigate the content of drinks made with vegetable extracts in the name of public health. Its passage through the National Assembly in February 1940 provoked a storm of controversy. Farley visited the State Department and the French ambassador in Washington. The Americans put pressure on the French government. An article appeared in Le Monde entitled ‘To Die for Coca-Cola’, mimicking the ‘To Die for Danzig?’ article of 1939. ‘We have accepted chewing gum and Cecil B. De Mille, Reader’s Digest and be-bop,’ it read. ‘It’s over soft drinks that the conflict has erupted. Coca-Cola seems to be the Danzig of European culture. After Coca-Cola, enough.’ The French government was caught between the anger of French public opinion and the need to retain the favour of the American government. In the end the matter was resolved by the French courts, which ruled that the contents of Coca-Cola were neither fraudulent nor a health hazard. The French government retained its honour and the Americans obtained their market.

Continue reading Coca-Cola and postwar market liberalization

Class analysis as farce

One of the things that always bothers me about universities is how cagey they are when it comes to talking about their place in class reproduction. (For those of you who are uneasy about “class,” try asking yourself about the possible place of universities in hierarchical, even antagonistic social systems of status, prestige, exploitation, wealth, and opportunity.) Sometimes people talk about how universities promote social mobility for students, but, as easy as it is to forget this, even the very idea of “social mobility” presupposes hierarchy and inequality; it takes a structure of inequality to enable the individual to move around within it. As for the social class of the faculty, there too it’s difficult to pin down. In part that’s because longstanding ideologies of the “scholarly guild” tend to conceal class inequalities within the faculty, above all between contingent and non-contingent staff. In part that’s because a traditional Marxist analysis of class has a hard time handling people like academics who have a lot of cultural capital but relatively little actual money. In part that’s because it’s convenient to imagine oneself as classless (which is, moreover, the foundational fantasy of middle-class America).

I find it interesting, therefore, to notice those rare occasions when some sort of class analysis manages to emerge from official academic discourse. If we look at the University of Chicago’s very odd Idea of the University colloquium from 2000-2001, we see that Don Randel, then the university’s president, expressed a very definite faith in his university’s collective attachment to wealth:

“We must hope that values and commitment are the principal reasons for which both faculty and graduate students want to be at The University of Chicago. But we cannot idly expect them to express their values and commitment through any very significant financial sacrifice. One of our greatest challenges for the future, then, will be to find the resources with which to ensure that neither talented faculty nor talented graduate students go to other institutions for the wrong reasons (though it is hard to imagine what a “right” reason could be).”

In other words, Randel argues that the faculty (and graduate students) must be well paid, lest they go elsewhere for the “wrong reasons” (i.e., for crassly economic reasons). The university has continued this argument in the meantime, incidentally; it was one of their main motivations for increasing graduate stipends in humanities and social sciences a few years ago. But Randel doesn’t only observe that many people are motivated by money; he also argues that we can’t expect any very significant financial sacrifice for any apparent higher purpose. Which is a way of saying not only that money matters, but also that it outweighs any foreseeable moral or political motivation. In other words, economic status — indeed, class status — is the bottom line.

Continue reading Class analysis as farce

Professors’ status loss

Christine Musselin, a French sociologist of higher education, ventures an interesting interpretation of the changing relation between professional status, salary, and the overall size of the academic profession. In short, she argues that the larger academia gets, the lower status professors will have.

The massification of higher education has not only had demographic implications. It has led to a certain trivialization of university faculty’s social position in developed countries — it is no longer rare to be an academic. At the same time, it is no longer rare to be a university graduate. This trend should increase in the years to come, in spite of the stagnation of demographic growth in developed countries as enrollments among 18- to 25-year-olds, by cohort [classe d’âge], tend to plateau or even decline. But official policies in most developed countries, as we enter the third millennium, nonetheless aim to increase access to higher education. In France, the objective of the post-2007 government, like that of its predecessor, is to bring 50% of each age class to bachelor’s [license] level. The idea is to facilitate underprivileged or underrepresented populations’ access to education, to encourage the pursuit of studies through graduation, to encourage further studies and teaching all throughout the life course. One should not thus expect a decrease in the population of university teachers in the years to come; one should expect growth, aimed at accommodating students with more and more diversified profiles in terms of age, sociological composition, motivation, etc.

These developments are often described as one of the signs of contemporary societies’ transition towards “knowledge societies” [sociétés de connaissance] one of whose notable characteristics is a break with the concentration of knowledges [savoirs] within a handful of heads. University faculty, as they become more numerous and come to play a central role in this process, will be less and less able to maintain the quasi-monopoly of knowledge [connaissance] expertise that they have held in the past.

The progressive loss of social prestige should thus continue — at least for the larger part of the professoriate, who won’t be in the avant-garde of scientific production, but will rather primarily contribute to the transmission of knowledge and the training of highly qualified personnel. This evolution has already been in progress for a long time and can be measured in particular by looking at salaries. University faculty salaries have evolved less favorably than those of professionals with the same level of education working outside academia (for France, see Bouzidi, Jaaidane and Gary-Bobo [2007]). This trend goes for most of the university models concerned [here in this study], whether quasi-completely public as in Europe or partly private as in North America, whether the academics are state functionaries or have private-sector contracts.

(Musselin, Les universitaires, 2006, pp. 25-26, my translation.)

My sense is that academics’ “status loss” is somewhat more complex than this, since, if you believe what you read on academic blogs, most American college students can’t tell the difference between an adjunct with really low institutional status and salary and a tenured professor. So on the level of everyday phenomenology of professional life, Musselin’s description seems a little hasty. But there is certainly a sort of myth, at the very least, that (American) faculty used to get more respect than they do now; and it may well be the case that students, on the whole, demonstrate less exaggerated obsequiousness than they once did. And it’s hard not to agree with Musselin that this shift likely is deeply related to  the massification of higher education: as if the more people go to college, the less prestige they gain from it – and the less prestige their teachers garner from teaching them. As if there was a kind of prestige mimesis, such that the lower status of today’s less elite student populations was contagious. Some longer meditations on the relation between prestige and scarcity may be in order here: Graeber’s, for example…

“Everything is going great”: the official lie of campus newsletters

As someone who’s young, as someone who hasn’t known the academic world for decades and decades and decades, this hadn’t occurred to me, but it turns out that something as seemingly innocuous as the campus newsletter may have a political history. At least that’s what I infer from this fairly bitter critique of campus newsletters on French campuses that I’ll excerpt and translate from Christian de Montlibert‘s 2004 book, Knowledge for Sale: Higher Education and Research in Danger (Savoir à Vendre : L’enseignement et la recherche en danger). My guess, though he doesn’t give any real detail, is that the very existence of a campus newsletter on French public universities is a fairly recent development.

Management at the University

Managerial university administration supports itself with numerous organizational measures; computer software on the corporate model, for example, has already profoundly modified universities’ operations. And the language of entrepreneurial discourse — “efficiency,” “control,” “evaluation,” “project,” “objectives” — is being transposed onto centers of teaching and research which worked, until now, according to other logics. The critical and cumulative temporality of knowledge, after all, has nothing to do with a realized project’s profit timeline.

Nothing shows this penetration of managerial ideology better than the realization of university “newsletters” (journaux). We find in these newsletters a clear expression of this “enterprise culture,” a cleverly disguised and hence valorized means for the indoctrination of a firm’s employees, whose aim is an interiorization of the objectives of productivity and an acceptance of organized forms of domination. These newsletters aim to give a handsome image of the university, without wrinkles or folds, which has no more relation to reality than advertising icons have to social reality.

The newsletter delivers an official lie: “Everything is going great.” It is in no way a public space that would allow a debate about campus participants’ activities and conditions of existence. One doesn’t talk about the misery of foreign students who go to the hospital in a state of physical deterioration because of malnourishment, nor about the short-term jobs that other students string together, nor about anguish in the face of precarity, nor about academic failure. Neither does one talk about the working conditions in the university’s offices or among its laborers. One doesn’t talk in this newsletter about the faculty’s working conditions, nor about the reactions to the latest ministerial injunctions, nor about the problems of research work. The newsletters keep silent on the reforms imposed on university workers, even though they could be the best placed to forecast the University’s development.

As the University is also a center of research, one can only be amazed to see that the newsletter doesn’t open up its columns to notes on current research projects, on the ideas currently up for debate, or on the knowledges currently being developed. In reality, the newsletter is copying business newsletters: it wants to be the vector of an “enterprise culture.” But everything shows us that the University, a place of confrontation between different knowledges and truths and research projects, loses itself in wanting to “sell itself.” It ceases to be by wanting to be what it’s not.

(pp. 46-47).

Continue reading “Everything is going great”: the official lie of campus newsletters

Pécresse, business and the human sciences

I started to feel that I’d been over-privileging the protestors in this blog, so I thought I’d translate a recent speech by the Minister of Higher Education and Research, Valérie Pécresse. Pécresse has had a controversial time in the Ministry and is now running for regional offices in Ile-de-France. This week she spoke at a conference at her Ministry, titled “Human Sciences: New Resources for Enterprise?” I couldn’t make the conference because the website said it was full and couldn’t accept further registrations, but I found the text online. Her speech was everything one could wish for — at least if what one wishes for is the best possible integration of universities into the work world.

I’ve been listening to the results of your debates with great interest.

It’s remarkable that we’ve been able to bring students, young graduates, university actors and business representatives together for this debate on the “new resources for enterprise” that the human and social sciences represent.

The question that has been discussed here for the past three-plus hours is essential. It’s at the heart of my activities at the Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

There was a time when, among employers, the universities had a bad reputation in relation to other establishments of higher learning. This time has passed. For almost three years now I’ve led efforts that aim to restore the universities to their full place in the country’s instructional programs.

Graduates in the human and social sciences deserve to be supported in their search for employment. To be sure, three years after the end of their studies, graduates with a license in classics, languages or history have unemployment rates around 7%, which is actually lower than those with the same degree in physics (8%) or chemistry (12%). But these encouraging statistics should not hide a worrisome reality: these fields also see a process of unacknowledged selection — by failure. This failure extends to as many as 50% of enrolled students, in both the first and in the second years [of the 3-year license].

For too long, we have let things be without reacting.

The fields of social and human sciences have welcomed many of the students coming from the second wave of massification of university enrollments, the one that began in the 80s. But the democratization of access to higher education has remained unfinished. We have too often neglected to support these new high school graduates. They have been driven by the system’s inertia [les pesanteurs] towards the social and human sciences, without really having chosen them.

It was in order to reverse these tendencies that the law of 2007 set disciplinary and professional placement [l’orientation et l’insertion professionnelle] at the heart of the university’s missions. The “License plan” has offered universities the means to bring students up to speed and to better prepare them to enter professional life.

It was not acceptable that many enrolled students never showed up to take their exams, nor that the university had such high exam failure rates. From this point forward, troubled students should be able to leave the university better armed for professional life. And, starting this year, universities should furnish their professional placement indicators.

In other words, students and students’ issues have been brought back to the heart of the university. Henceforth it will be possible to respond to their legitimate needs for disciplinary placement, for training [formation] and for preparation for professional life.

Continue reading Pécresse, business and the human sciences