24 November 2023

Walkie-talkie attached to his overalls, Aristide Echardour stands guard. Aged 22, bushy beard and clear eyes, he filters, Monday, March 20, the entries of the National School of Architecture (ENSA) of Normandy, in Darnétal, near Rouen. A new general assembly of students decided to block the establishment. No more lessons are given; only students in the second year of a master’s degree are authorized, a few weeks before the end of their course, to complete their work.

In front of the door of the establishment (a former braces factory), a few pallets and three plywood panels form a thin rampart. On one of them, the acronym of the ENSA is hijacked: “national school without money”. In February, the school had to postpone its opening for a week after the winter holidays, for lack of means to ensure its courses, causing the disbelief, then the anger of its students. Since then, the protest has won the twenty public schools of architecture in France, where general meetings, blockages and trivialization of courses are increasing. Some of the students were also present in the processions of the demonstrations against the pension reform, Thursday, March 23.

This is not the first protest of the ENSA. The school network which has 1,736 teachers, 723 administrative staff and around 20,000 students, had challenged – in a letter of December 2019, signed by the directors and presidents of establishments – Franck Riester, then head of culture and supervisory minister, on the lack of means at their disposal to carry out their missions, since the reform of their status in 2018. Several reports were then commissioned by Rue de Valois, one to the General Inspectorate of Cultural Affairs (IGAC), delivered at the end of 2020, then another, still produced by IGAC but co-written with the General Inspectorate of Education, Sport and Research (IGESR), published in December 2021.

Read the column: Article reserved for our subscribers “We, directors of schools of architecture, call for a massive investment in the teaching of architecture in order to train the future actors of the transition”

The two inspections issued 29 recommendations aimed in particular at modifying and reorganizing teaching, creating new diplomas, developing work-study programs and the territorial network of ENSAs… A challenge for several schools, which are already unable to maintain the existing one. In addition, the Covid-19 epidemic has emptied the schools of their students, postponing the proper application of the 2018 reform.

Lack of administrative staff

This reform was, however, eagerly awaited by the ENSAs. It focuses on two essential points: first novelty, the governance is collegialized and is similar to the university model, with representative bodies for teacher-researchers, elected students and administrative staff. A chairman of the board of directors from outside the establishment is elected, only the director is appointed by the supervising ministry. The second point is the change in the status of teachers in schools of architecture. Previously contractual, they are supposed to become teacher-researchers on the model of academics, therefore civil servants, paid by the State, who benefit from hourly discharges to do research.

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