Friday, May 12, 2006

French Universities.

The NYTimes had a fair take on the French university system. It gives you a concrete illustration of what you get for a $250 tuition a year, (at the University of Paris X - Nanterre):
No student center, no bookstore, no yearbook, no student-run newspaper, no sports stadium, no freshman orientation, no corporate recruiting system. The 480,000-volume central library is open only 10 hours a day, closed on Sundays and holidays. Only thirty of the library's 100 computers have Internet access. The campus cafeterias close after lunch. Professors often do not have office hours; many do not have offices. Some classrooms are so overcrowded that at exam time, many students have to find seats elsewhere. By late afternoon every day, the campus is largely empty.
But in the end, Nanterre is indeed neither the best nor the worst place to study in this fairly wealthy country. In France, universities are mostly state-funded and, as the article correctly illustrates, the common view of most students is that "The university is a public service. The state must pay." but how long will that last? Given the great number of students now going to university, the funding is streching to the limits.
As the NYTimes article points out, this grim picture of the French university system is not complete - there are also very competitive schools (the Grandes Ecoles) but only 4% of French students make it there.

The article ends on a quote of a graduate of Nanterre: "We are never taught the idea of the American dream, where everything is possible. Our guide is fear."
While I agree that fear should not be one's guide, I don't believe one should necessarily buy the idea of the American dream - especially when one is not American and the French are most certainly not American. They should therefore have their own (national) myths and pursue them!


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