FRANCE: Paris-Dauphine fees increase may be illegal

A decision by the University Paris-Dauphine to increase fees for some of its masters courses from EUR231 (US$321) to as much as EUR4,000 has angered lecturers and students, while Minister for Higher Education and Research Valérie Pécresse believes the move could be illegal.

The governing board of Dauphine last week approved the plan to raise the annual fees of about 40 masters courses. A statement explained that from the new academic year, starting in autumn 2010, fees would be set at between EUR1,500 and EUR4,000 depending on families' incomes.

Grant holders, disabled students and those with refugee status would be exempt from all fees. Families with more than one student or whose home was located outside the Ile-de-France region would be entitled to rebates of EUR500. Fees for other masters and bachelors courses would remain unchanged.

The programmes concerned are in management and in international economy and development, and would affect about 1,400 students out of 9,000. Dauphine aims to improve the international reputation of these masters degrees by means including strengthening its teaching force and adding courses in English, and wants to diversify its finances.

In 2004, Paris-Dauphine changed its status from that of 'university' to 'grand établissement'. This allows it to select its students and decide what fees to charge for new programmes it has itself created.

Traditional French universities, as Dauphine was before 2004, offer national degrees with fees fixed annually by ministerial decree. These are currently EUR171 for a bachelors course, EUR231 for a masters and EUR350 for a doctorate.

So Dauphine's proposed upper limit of EUR4,000 is more than 17 times the current rate for a national masters. It is estimated the institution could earn up to EUR4 million from the supplementary fees.

In 2008, Dauphine tried to convert its existing national degrees into 'inhouse' ones but, following a referral by Pécresse, the State Council ruled that since the courses remained substantially the same, the conversion was unacceptable because the intention was solely to increase fees.

Speaking about the proposed fees hike in a radio interview last week, Pécresse said: "If that is what Dauphine University is doing, it is illegal according to the judgment I requested from the State Council, and so we shall not accept it."

She said she would again check the legality of the move and gave an assurance there was "absolutely no question of raising university fees today in our country".

Dauphine's President Laurent Batsch told Le Parisien newspaper the courses concerned were created in 2009 and therefore it was nothing to do with state degrees in disguise: "I have no worries about the legality of the decision taken by our governing board," he said. "If we increase our tuition fees it's so we can become more competitive at an international level and match the best business schools."

Lecturers' and students' representatives protested against Dauphine's decision. Snesup-FSU, the main lecturers' union, said it constituted a fracture in university history which would "deepen inequalities between students and between courses".

Unef, the chief students' union, condemned the reform which it said would turn Dauphine into a "ghetto for the rich" and urged the government to ensure the law was respected.