Foreign students under pressure from protests

30th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 30, 2006 (AFP) - With universities under blockade, exams put off and lessons scrapped, foreign students fear the wave of protests over the French government's contested youth jobs law will hit their education too.

PARIS, March 30, 2006 (AFP) - With universities under blockade, exams put off and lessons scrapped, foreign students fear the wave of protests over the French government's contested youth jobs law will hit their education too.

At the Cité Universitaire Internationale in Paris, a hub of students from around the world, there is palpable anguish that the protests will impact on their own studies.

Some tutors have talked of postponing exams until later in the year. Others have cancelled lessons. In some cases blockades have prevented those who want to study from doing so.

Valérie Rousseau, a student from Quebec in Canada, heard that her seminars at a specialist social sciences college which had been occupied and vandalised by protesters could be delayed until September.

"I'm studying in France as part of an inter-university exchange and I have to return to Quebec this summer," she said. "There was no question for me of returning to Paris in autumn."

In the end, most of her seminars were saved, "but it was still frustrating to be deprived of lessons."

Rousseau, 33, who is working on a thesis in art history, also complained about a lack of tutor follow-up, and said that if she has the choice again of where to study, she may choose England.

More than half of the country's 84 universities and hundreds of secondary schools remain closed or disrupted, some for more than three weeks, because of the protests against the government's First Employment Contract (CPE).

The measure is designed by the government to encourage companies to take on young workers by making it easier to fire them, a tactic students and unions say only increases job insecurity even further.

Adding to the disruption in higher-level education have been often violent confrontations between riot police and trouble-makers, images which have gone around the world and given the impression of a nation in turmoil.

Katya Torfs, a Belgian whose economics lessons at the prestigious Sorbonne were scrapped after the university in central Paris was closed by strikes and blockades, criticised the student leadership.

"There was never any real general assembly to decide on the strike," Torfs complained.

Haiguan Nguen, a 28-year-old information technology student from Vietnam, said that while he understood the grievances of the French protesters, "it's gone on for too long."

The disruption may also damage France's image abroad, especially among the foreign students it wants to attract, the association of university presidents warned last week in a letter to President Jacques Chirac.

The top-ranked French university, according to the annual Shanghai index of the world's leading 500 establishments, is Paris-Jussieu in 46th place.

When it comes to attracting foreign students, France lies in fourth place behind the United States, Britain and Germany.

To try to make up the gap, France last year set up a specialist university for economics studies along the lines of the London School of Economics.

But for Pierre-Emmanuel Lenfant, a 26-year-old Belgian drawn to Paris for its cultural and cosmopolitan atmosphere, the anti-CPE movement is not likely to damage France's image further.

"It's too late for that," he said. "The classic image of a French man used to be the guy in a beret with a baguette under his arm. Soon it'll be a youth wearing a hood with a baseball bat in his hands."

Ghasem Shiri, a 27-year-old Iranian studying for a doctorate in management, has followed the protests with interest, "even though it's annoying about the lessons. In our country, it would have been over long ago," he said.

But he did not think the unrest would dissuade other foreign students from coming here. "This confrontation corresponds to the image of France."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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