Students entering the French higher education system in 1960 and since the 1990s will have undergone quite different experiences. However, so will the students entering higher education in France at the beginning of the 1960s compared to those entering towards the end of that very same decade. This is due to two main reforms, one of them culminating in the failed political revolution of May 1968.
Universities and students were not a priority for French governments until the end of the 1960s. The higher education institutions, such as the “grandes écoles” and universities, simply had to survive with little or no input from the government, “A vrai dire, ils [les universités et les étudiants] n'en avaient que faire.”1. The failed political revolution in May 1968 gave rise to form and structure to the university system. This had knock-on effects dramatically changing working conditions, aspirations and prospects of French students from the beginning of the 1960s until the present day. At the beginning of the 1960s, French university students were still “héritiers”. These are students selected from the social elite of the nation and the universities were set-up with the intent on cultivating this elite. The “héritiers” are described as “les lycéens et les étudiants qui ont reçu une éducation familiale leur donnant précocement les codes de la réussite scolaire, bénéficiant du capital culturel et d'une connaissance des codes scolaires implicites.”2. Therefore the working conditions at this particular time were fairly good as the students were all from similar backgrounds and there were not really that many students, “il y en avait 200,000 [étudiants] en 1960.”1.
[...] The problems that French students faced since the 1990s and until today in universities are pretty much the same, although there have been various inadequate improvements made by the government to try to take the pressure off students. There are six times as many students in universities in France in the 1990s compared to in the 1960s. y a aujourd'hui 1,200,000 étudiants en France. Il y en avait 200,000 en 1960. En trente ans, la population universitaire a été multiplié par six et la progression est loin d'être stoppée.”1. [...]
[...] For the above reasons, the working conditions for university students in France have often been described as “affreux”4 and “c'est l'enfer”4 since the end of the 1960s. The main problem then was due to the massive expansion caused by the sudden “growth in population and the public demand for access to education at all levels, known as “Scolarisation spontanée” in France”3. There was tremendous overcrowding, because the facilities could not be created quickly enough to accommodate the inflow of students. [...]
[...] Now students from all sorts of backgrounds were staying on for higher education and mixing with the elite of the nation. For some of these newer students, university was not even an ambition, études, c'est la condition sine qua non d'avoir un job. Ce n'est pas une ambition, c'est une obligation.”5. The work environment was now often defaced and there were often missing windows and doors, absence de portes ou de fenêtres, This did mot help to improve the already terrible working conditions university students had to deal with. [...]
[...] Finally, the government policy changed and they realised that they needed to have a trained and skilled workforce if they were to keep up with their European counterparts in the economic world. The reform implemented in 1967 led to many more people staying on at secondary school, the whole generation, and therefore the influx of students into higher education also increased. Complemented by the social demand and the government policy there was a sudden expansion in the number of students at university. These effects culminated in the failed political revolution of May 1968. [...]
[...] There are so many people staying on for higher education that you have to stay on and study for even longer, for example to the “maîtrise” or “license” level, to be able to get a decent job. France, the link between qualifications and social status is relatively close. Right from the beginning of a career qualifications seem to determine promotion possibilities in a clear and precise manner”6. Students in higher education now have to work tremendously hard meaning that they do not have a social life, as they understand this important tie between career success and education. [...]
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