France’s educational reforms: is it time to become more elitist?

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France’s educational reforms: is it time to become more elitist?

Like most presidents before him, Emmanuel Macron decided to tackle France’s educational system and started to reform it. One of his ideas is to put in place a more selective enrollment system for public universities. Places that are more often than not overcrowded, especially in freshmen year. Up until now, it was possible to request admission for almost any degree you wanted, even if it was only remotely linked to the major you took through high school (i.e., if you major in science[1], nothing forbids you from enrolling in a history or French literature degree).

It might be surprising, but according to the famous French poling agency Ipsos, 66% of French people agree on having a form of selection amongst future students. Moreover, 63% think that too many students apply to go to college. It does not mean that less people should apply, or that less people should study. It simply shows that there needs to be a more efficient selective process in order to balance applications from one degree to another. For example, whether it is amphitheaters in med school or in English departments, so many students get in the first year that professors teach overcrowded classrooms and students have to seat on the floor and in the stairways. What do we do to prevent that? In practice, universities often choose to have lotteries in order to select students in the fairest way possible. However, smoothing the selection process can start during high school. Indeed, we need to guide students and help them apply for degrees that suit their future career plans or at the very least, to guide them towards a degree in a subject they are good at. Of course I agree with the concept of equality, and studying is an obvious right everyone in France has. But if it means that anyone can study anything, leading to being in poor teaching and learning conditions, I say ‘enough with equality’!

For instance, why should universities use random draws in order to choose the students that can attend overcrowded courses? That is completely unacceptable. In what world is it fair to choose a mediocre student over a 4.0 GPA? In what world is it fair to deny admission to a hard working student passionate about research and science over someone who barely graduated and is joining a science degree simply because it will please his parents? How can such a system respond to the values of fairness and equality?

In my opinion, it is time for some positive discrimination. Degrees and universities with limited seats should have a list of criteria the students need to comply with. The student’s motivation, his grades in high school as well as his career plan are reasonable pieces of information that can help admission officers to decide who should fill in the rare seats offered by this or that university. The point would be to have less crowded classrooms with more motivated students. The idea here is not to preach for an elitist system. The point is to offer students better learning conditions.

Moreover, it is essential to offer them more possibility of choice. Meaning that throughout high school we should be exposed to more career days and more meetings with guidance counselors. Then problem we have to face here is also due to the lack of time dedicated to counseling in French high schools. As a result, a lot of prospective students are lost and have no idea what they should study and end up applying for degrees they merely like, simply because it is supposed to be an ‘easy degree.’ The point in being more elitist is to encourage future students to be more ambitious and to encourage them to build up well thought applications instead of making a choice by default. On the other hand, it will help universities make more legitimate choices to fill in the few places they offer for specific degrees.

Let’s not forget that this selection process will apply only for degrees and universities with limited seats and will not become commonplace within the French higher education system. Thus, we should see this change as a regulating factor and not as a threat to equality. The main issue is that by trying to be equal quantitatively, French universities are loosing in equality qualitatively. Far from being a threat to equality, Emmanuel Macron’s new reforms will reward hard-working and talented students who wish to get into demanding programs. The point here is to encourage all French students to be the best version of themselves and help everyone get in schools that are a right fit.

[1] In a nutshell, French highschoolers can decide to major in science, literature or economics before they join college.

Featured image: flickr

Marion Valentin
Marion Valentin is a cum laude graduate from La Sorbonne, where she received her master’s degree in English. She also graduated cum laude with a master’s degree in political science from the Catholic Institute of Higher Studies. Her research interests include the role of culture in the Cold War and use of French culture to combat ideological extremism within the francophone world. A lifelong traveler, she has lived in nine countries and four continents. She currently works as a full time teacher at the French Cultural Center of Boston.

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