24 November 2023

ATYear after year, the conditions of higher education and research (ESR) in France are deteriorating. Here, they are overloaded tutorial classes during which some students sit on the floor until absenteeism corrects the situation. Elsewhere, it is an amphitheater whose window will not be repaired during the winter, the students following the courses in coat.

In another department, the number of administrative staff has been halved, without reducing the needs. When the overtime, often unpaid, is not enough, it is then the teacher-researchers who take on their research time to ensure the administrative functioning.

These incidents have a cause: the continuous erosion of the resources devoted to higher education and research, due to budgets that do not keep up with inflation. The year 2023 is no exception: while the 4.4% increase in the higher education budget may seem significant, it should be compared to inflation of 5.9%. In fifteen years, it is thus practically a sixth of the budget devoted to research and higher education that has disappeared. However, the number of higher education students has continued to increase, rising from 2.35 million in 2010 to 2.97 million in 2021.

Decline in purchasing power

Faced with this decline, not all establishments are in the same boat. The autonomy of universities and the multiplication of funding channels have enabled certain departments of excellence to do well. However, this cannot hide the precariousness that affects the majority of French universities.

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In the same way, the creation of a few hundred chairs for junior professors, suitably financially endowed, cannot compensate for the drop in purchasing power over several decades of tens of thousands of teacher-researchers.

It would be wrong to believe that these budgetary choices only impact the university system. In 2021, the students of the National School of Arts and Crafts went on strike to protest against the multiplication by five of their registration fees. In 2022, Emmanuel Macron recalled his desire to get out of a system where “higher education is priceless for almost all students”.

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Gradually, the idea of ​​a public higher education and research service was abandoned to be replaced by an American-style system, but without American funding: multi-tier establishments, paying higher education and funding contract research following time-consuming calls for projects.

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