FRANCE: United in struggle against reforms

French universities have faced strikes by academics and students for six weeks and their protests have received wide coverage from French and foreign newspapers. Despite claims by some journalists, very few violent clashes have occurred: this movement is not another example of the recurring cliché of striking workers in France.

Nearly all those involved in university life are fighting together against the government's education reforms and particularly the one concerning teacher training. Lecturers and students have been demonstrating on a weekly basis since the beginning of February and administrative staff have joined the movement as well.

For the first time, all those in the university are united in the struggle, despite their different political leanings. Left and right-wing unions, people with or without political commitment are clearly showing their disapproval of the reforms.

This is a new kind of strike and not only because it involves an unprecedented number of people throughout the university system. In fact, the actions of the movement have widened and evolved. Instead of blockading access to campuses, students and teachers have created 'active occupation' consisting of alternative seminars, workshops and debates.

These are not limited to campuses. In most university towns, to increase visibility and awareness among the general public, other activities have been and are still being organised such as cours hors les murs (that is, classes held off-site in public places such as theatres, train stations or simply in the streets), conferences, think tanks and public screenings.

Although the media have focused on statute changes, the protest is mainly about teacher training. The future masters in education backed by the government will not improve the current programme. In the case of English teachers, not only do they learn about the language, the history and the culture of English-speaking countries but they also study teaching methods and have one year of teacher training.

The new reform plans to cut subject content in favour of extensive study of school management - Shakespeare and other classics will be removed from the curriculum. The changes mean future English teachers will not even have to take a significant oral examination in English. Besides, it also plans to remove the year of teaching practice.

Those who obtain their masters degree but fail the selective examinations (CAPES) will be allowed to teach as assistants or supply teachers. Some students will find themselves with teachers who failed the CAPES, thus implying a decline in teaching quality. These so-called teachers will be disposable commodities, without job security.

Despite government claims, when it comes to public spending on education, it seems clear the budget will suffer from continued reductions. More money will be given to universities but because of the financial weight of increased responsibilities, it will result in detrimental cuts.

We realise the situation is difficult for foreign exchange students and so to ensure they are not penalised, online courses have been set up and contact with teachers established. All exchange students will be able to do assignments, obtain marks and validate their year.

The token concessions made by the government are superficial and deemed unsatisfactory by the university community. For the moment, the situation remains unresolved but we hope the current protest will result in more consultation, broader negotiations and a speedy resolution.

*"Bordeaux 3 On Strike" is a group of Bordeaux 3 students occupying the university and struggling against the reform. Far from barricading or breaking things, this group invents alternative forms of protest, such as the present initiative.