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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: À quoi doit servir l’université ?

by Jacqueline Sellem, animator of the round table

What rôle for the Universities? (2)

Translated Wednesday 10 June 2009, by Henry Crapo

Part 2 : First exchanges in the Debate. [1]

Participants in the Round Table :

Frédérique Bassino, professor of computer science at Paris XIII, member of the national administrative commission of the SNESUP.

Isabelle Bruno, assistant professor in Political Science at the Universty of Lille-II.

Jean-Louis Fournel, assistant professor in language and literature at Paris VIII, president of the association Sauvons l’Université (Save the University).

François Vatin, professor of Sociology at the University Paris-Ouest-Nanterre, signer of the Manifesto for the Re-Foundation of the French University .

Part 2 (discussion begins)

Hum: The movement to reject government reforms has banded together teachers, students, and university personnel, as has rarely before been the case. Are you fighting to maintain the status quo, or do you aim for a different reform?

Jean-Louis Fournel:
Contrary to what our adversaries have liked to say, this movement is not conservative, it is not in favor of the status quo. We have all demanded global negotiations, and since the beginning, because we are profoundly aware that there is a global crisis in the university system, and that’s where we have to start. No matter the way in which the minister of education, whose brutality is matched only by his incapacity to engage in dialogue during the preceding months, forced the rectors to behave like prefects on a mission, this movement is not over. What’s at stake is far too important for it to stop.

Isabelle Bruno:
The general assemblies I attended in Lille give evidence of a two-sided increase in consciousness. More and more of our colleagues are convinced that we are engaged in a long-term battle, and that the fight is not simply directed against the present government. The destruction of that aspect of public service that is higher education and research concerns not only France, but is present on a European scale, with increasingly strong involvement of institutions of the European community (the Commission, and the Council) and other actors such as the Association of European Universities, very active in the Bologna process, or the recent "University G8" [2]. It’s at this level that we should create a balance of forces. We are not in a corporatist battle for the survival of an institution that will persist in its present form, but in a battle that opposes different social projects.

Frédérique Bassino:
Employment, the budget for higher education and research, the place of teachers in our society with respect to questions of status, training, mode of recruitment of teacher-researchers, primary and secondary school teachers, these are the important axes of the movement. The will of the entire university community to discuss the global issue is evidence of an overall reflection. And important ideas have been reaffirmed, as in the fact that knowledge is not a merchandise, or the attachment of the university and research world to principles of collegiality and cooperation.

François Vatin:
There can’t be a status quo because it’s one thing to win a political battle against a government that engages in reforms that do not satisfy us, but it’s quite another thing to win a practical battle against a public which, for diverse reasons, systematically privileges selective measures, professionalizing tendencies, those with some pay-off. It does not suffice to say that the quality of teaching in French universities is good, and of that I am persuaded, but one must still convince the public. When, as I have seen, a taxi driver feels obliged to pay dearly for private schooling for his daughter in preparation for the national examination for speech therapists,when she has just passed the baccalaureat S with marks "very good", we see that we have a difficult task ahead. That’s what gets me going, because it is in ways like this this that we exacerbate social disparities.

The debate continues — see part 3.

[1The introduction (part 1) to this article was published separately, as article 1226. The debate continues in part 3.

[2The Bologna process aims at creating a European system of higher education by 2010. It started in 1999 with the signature of the Bologna Declaration. The University G8 met in Turin, 18-19 May 2009, with university officials from 18 nations.

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