Tag Archives: vocationalism

La vie active and French right-wing vocationalism

The always useful website of Sauvons L’Université has just published the text of a curious proposal in the French Senate for a new law that would require all French students pursuing a traditional high school or university degree to also study for a vocational diploma. The proposal has some interesting remarks on what a university is:

Outre les qualités intellectuelles qu’elle amène à développer, l’université, par la diversité de ses étudiants et de son corps enseignant apporte des qualités humaines à celui qui y étudie. L’université est le lieu transitoire entre la vie d’un adolescent et la vie d’un homme, qui devient autonome, assume ses choix, ses études et par là même, ses résultats.

Cette formation est un des piliers qui permet à chacun de se construire.

Un deuxième pilier est cependant indispensable pour aborder efficacement le monde du travail, je veux parler de la formation professionnelle.

Beyond the intellectual qualities that it helps to develop, the university, by the diversity of its students and its teaching staff, brings human qualities to those who study there. The university is a transitory place between the life of an adolescent and the life of a man, who is becoming autonomous, accepting responsibility for his choices, his studies, and thus also for his results.

This education is one of the foundations that allow each of us to construct ourselves.

A second pillar is nevertheless indispensable for efficiently entering the work world, I mean professional training…

The proposed law would thus require that university students spend five hours weekly on getting a BEP or CAP, which are both secondary-level education certificates, on the level of American vocational-technical diplomas. Typical specializations for the BEP or CAP are things like carpentry, retail sales, automobile maintenance, graphic design, secretarial work, and restaurant work: they are degrees that, in essence, aim to produce the specialized “technicians” who make up the French working classes in an increasingly post-industrial era. Given widespread complaints about out-of-work university graduates, it isn’t surprising that this proposed law hopes to enhance job placement prospects, while also (in a charming moment of humanist pragmatism) allowing students to “balance their knowledge” between pure theory and pure technique.

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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.

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increased American interest in philosophy

An article called “In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined,” in the Times, reports that the number of undergraduate philosophy majors is climbing across the country. The interesting thing is that the reasons given for the increase in enrollment are far from traditional justifications for philosophical inquiry. A student at Rutgers, Didi Onejame, is said to think that philosophy “has armed her with the skills to be successful.” What are these skills? “It’s a major that helps them become quick learners and gives them strong skills in writing, analysis and critical thinking,” says the executive director of the APA. Students also, apparently, find it “intellectually rewarding,” “a lot of fun,” good training for asking “larger societal questions,” and a good choice for an era when the job market changes too fast, supposedly, to pick a more reliably marketable field.

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