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Free tuition fees, "added value" of the university

Announced by the government on 19 November, the plan to increase tuition fees for foreign foreign students in French universities indirectly raises the debate on free higher education in France. The prodigious increase envisaged – the amount of license fees for foreign students from 170 to 2,770 euros – is actually an attempt to revise the university funding system. Called "Welcome to France", this reform project has been the subject of much criticism from a dozen unions of higher education.

A danger for French research first. Unaware of the realities of public research involving a third of doctoral students of non-EU origin, the inflation of registration fees for master's and doctorate – respectively from 240 and 380 euros today to 3,770 euros in the future – would have despite the forecast of a registration support system, unbalance an already fragile research sector.

Diversity. An attack on the humanistic and universalist values ​​of the French university then. This second reproach addressed to the reform has been very widely relayed by the press and on social networks: to multiply the registration fees of foreign students by ten, it is to lock the door of a university rich of the diversity of those which she has trained so far. Concerns about equal opportunities were heard and the project slightly revised as Frédérique Vidal, Minister of Higher Education, announced in the newspaper Challenges February 20: These increase measures will no longer apply to all "International students" but only to the richest of them. A step aside that could reassure if this reform of access to university does not carry in it a new conception of the value of university courses and a revolution of their funding.

To make pay to give price? Behind this question is the fear that a certain economic model will definitely invest the French university field. In a globalized world convinced of the superiority of profit, what is free can not be estimated as much as it is expensive. The gratuity is the poverty of ambitions, the depreciation of universities that advocate excellence. According to this model, the love rating of a university should be the exact opposite of the universal law that free love is worth more than priced love. One can therefore understand one of the motivations of the designers of the reform: to boost the attractiveness of the French university by the seduction of the few students wishing to pay the high price to have the certainty of the "value" of their degree in the market work. A risky bet.

It is true that since 2007 the law of autonomy of French universities, better known under the name of Pécresse law, weakens the quasi-gratuity of registration fees. No longer fully subsidized by the state, few universities manage to balance their accounts. So we had to find solutions.

Chain. To eliminate the number of teacher-researcher and administrative staff positions or plan the training offer, the trend now seems to be to take things from the other end of the food chain: to make students pay to rebalance budgets. In such a context, it is to be feared that the current debate over raising tuition fees for some is the signal for a general rise in the cost of university education for all the others. However, almost free tuition fees are the only chance for students with modest incomes, whatever their origins, to spawn in university waters.

Why refrain from thinking that free registration can not be the "added value" of the French university? France has long placed the formation of its youth, as well as that of the rest of the world, above all else. There are the values ​​of humanism and universalism that she claims. It is only by assuming without choice its choice of free education that the French university can keep its wealth.

David Diop

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