Tag Archives: pécresse

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.

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

French universities funded according to performance

Liberation reports today that a new report from the French Senate “advocates a system of State budget distribution to universities depending ‘on performance criteria,’ notably that of student job placement.” The current system of budget allocation is “criticized by numerous actors for its unreadable, opaque and complex character.” (Incidentally, the total sum allocated to universities is, by American standards, absurdly low: 8.5 billion euros.) The aim of the new system would be to “restore a greater equity among universities” and to encourage “further efficiency in the utilization of their means.”

Continue reading French universities funded according to performance