France Reshapes Bachelor Education

Nieuws | de redactie
26 juli 2011 | Valérie Pécresse, outgoing Minister for Higher Education and Research, introduces her last reform of the Bachelor education in France.

The French government presented a new reform package for higher education tacklingissues of study success, employability of graduates,diversification and excellence.  The changes introduced willreshape the Bachelor degree (in France called licence) andare the last piece of legislation to be promoted by ValériePécresse, outgoing Minister for Higher Education and Research.

This resort will be taken over by Laurent Wauquiez, rising star in the Frenchgovernment, who pledged to continue Pécresse’s policies. As hehimself said on his Facebook-page: “Très ému de succéder àValérie Pecresse, c’est un vrai défi de poursuivre son oeuvre enfaveur de l’enseignement supérieure et de la recherche. C’estvraiment un grand honneur d’être à ce poste. C’est un univers queje connais bien, par mon parcours et mes travaux deparlementaires.” Yes, a modern HE-minister is a nobody if he is noton Facebook!

Standardization and Diversification

Chief element of the new law is that a minimum number ofteaching hours will be set for every Bachelor education. Currently,French students experience great variations with arts, languagesand literature programs including as little as 1.200 teaching hourswhile ‘hard’ sciences, technology and health studies requireattendance of up to 1,745 teaching hours. Such consolidation ofstudy programs is also an essential goal of the BolognaProcess that introduced the European Credit TransferSystems (ECTS) with each European credit being worth 28 hours ofstudying.

In addition to setting these standards, France also aims atexpanding and personalizing study programs. This means first of allthat licence programs should be made more flexibleallowing students to change their specialization in case they chosethe wrong study track. By diversifying studycourses, public universities are to cater theinterests of their students. Currently, only grandes écolesguarantee high levels of student-focused higher education. Theseinstitutes, however, are extremely selective and teach only 5% ofthe French student population.

Excellence Means Grande École

Pécresse states that public universities would have to move from”selection by failure” to “success for all” in order to tackle theextremely low study success rates whichindicate that only about half of French students successfully passtheir first year while 90.000 students leave university without adegree every year. For those students that excel in their studies,programs of excellence should beimplemented offering double degrees and study courses preparing forthe entrance exams of the grandes écoles. Honours programs, whichare becoming more popular in the Netherlands, are not part ofthis debate as truly excellent students are expected to ultimatelyleave public universities and attend a grandeécole.

Graduate employability
is also a vital concern ofthe new French higher education policy. Consequently, in thefuture, it will be obligatory for every Bachelor program to offerstudents the opportunity to do an internship or get work experienceduring their study. To test how well graduates from differentuniversities perform, benchmarks will beimplemented measuring a range of skills deemed important by theFrench government. These include: personal autonomy, capability toanalyze and summarize, computer and language know-how, disciplinarycompetence and employment-related knowledge.

Zijstra’s own Reforms

Halbe Zijstra, Dutch Minister for Higher Education, recentlypublished his own new policy paper outlining priorities foruniversities and hogescholen in the upcoming years. Issues such asdiversification of study courses were already an important part ofthe Veerman report. In his interview with ScienceGuide, the DutchHE-minister stresses similar goals like Pécresse by focusing onbenchmarks, employability, better results from bachelor educationand fewer dropouts.

The emphasis on more intensive ‘contact education’ is also desiredby Zijstra. Going so far as to implement a fixed minimum number ofteaching hours, nevertheless, is not part of future Dutch HEpolicy. Grandes Écoles with their elitism, likewise, are ratherstrange to the Dutch. Selectivity will be primarily seen as a formof matching, not as an instrument of explicit élite-development.Except of course in the Arts Schools.

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