Are plans to raise college tuition in France an American hustle?

Credit: Françoise Class

Credit: Françoise Class

On January 28th 2014, Mediapart published a blog post entitled, “Students: your registration fees are going to increase!” that you can read here: http://blogs.mediapart.fr/edition/les-batailles-de-legalite/article/280114/etudiants-vos-frais-d-inscription-vont-augmenter (in French). The tuition hikes, which concern France’s elite engineering schools, l’Ecole des Mines and Télécom, represent an over 70% increase compared to last year’s tuition and registration fees.

As an occasional reader of Le Monde and the free newspaper that I pick up on the metro in the morning, this information passed quietly under my radar. No reports of student riots made it onto the news and if the story was reported, it was done so in a most discrete manner.

For a country that places a high value on protecting its social model, the complete lack of media attention as politicians begin to chip away at the French social fabric is shocking. As Mediapart explains, even at quadruple the current cost, tuition would represent a negligible part of the total higher education budget if enacted for the entirety of French public universities. Tuition hikes would favour government disinvestment, all for the sake of an ideological argument that if education is free then students and international ratings institutions will have a tendency to consider it as worthless.

One of the reasons that French students may be staying silent about this increase is that it affects only elite engineering students. University students, as opposed to those accepted into engineering schools or other elite institutions such as l’Ecole Normale Supérieur or Sciences Po’, may be little concerned with the fate of often upper class students who enjoy a distinct job market advantage.

Having been present for the 2011 tuition hike demonstrations on the Berkeley campus, there was often a sentiment of guilt accompanying elite students who were on strike for lower fees. Berkeley students often brought up the fact that while the UC (University of California) students were complaining the loudest, it was the working class CSU (California State University) system students that would be hit the hardest. I’m not sure that the existence of people who are worse off in an unjust system makes protesting that system a moot point for those who are less disadvantaged, but it is certainly understandable that students coming from upper middle class backgrounds would question whether or not it was right to protest for their rights as their working class peers rested mostly silent (and did not take the luxury of protesting).

For more information on the finances of the American higher education system, please check out  http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshfreedman/ on Forbes.

I sincerely hope that France will continue to provide a high quality, reasonably priced education to its citizens. The so-called French brain drain, see here at CNBC: http://www.cnbc.com/id/101409926, wouldn’t exist if those people hadn’t been well trained by a vast and well-funded higher education system. Isn’t it better to be known as the country that educates its citizens too much rather than too little?

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