FRANCE: President suspended over 'false diplomas'

The president and two vice-presidents of the University of Sud Toulon Var have been suspended from their duties by Valérie Pécresse, Minister for Higher Education and Research, following an inspector's report that they had obstructed an inquiry into alleged trafficking of false diplomas (see Claims that Chinese given false diplomas).

Pécresse last week suspended Laroussi Oueslati, the university's president, Pierre Sanz de Alba, vice-president of the governing board, and Yves Lucas, vice-president of the STV's studies and university life council, from their elected posts for six months.

In April, Pécresse had ordered an administrative inquiry after a legal investigation had opened into the alleged sale of diplomas to hundreds of Chinese students - many unable to speak French - at the university's Institut d'Administration des Entreprises (IAE). Education inspectors found serious irregularities in "admission procedures of foreign students and validation of their studies".

Pécresse told the university's disciplinary section last month to take action against Oueslati. She also ordered a second inquiry because the education inspectorate had reported "suspicions of a series of internal malfunctions during the operation of the disciplinary process against the president".

A statement from the Ministry of Higher Education and Research last week said: "The complementary report made clear that the president and his management team impeded the [first] administrative inquiry by sidelining, exerting pressure, intimidation and threat of reprisals against lecturers and other university staff, and removing documents in what could be supposed to be an attempt to destroy evidence."

In addition to the three suspensions, Pécresse ordered that Oueslati, Sanz de Alba and Lucas should appear before the disciplinary section of another university.

Oueslati has denied all the charges, saying he had little contact with colleagues from the inspectorate and that these contacts were professional. He said administrative staff had "indeed removed documents as a preventative measure to protect the Chinese students at the IAE who had complained they were victims of discrimination in their course reports".