Friday, June 29, 2007

University reform in France

President Sarkozy is preparing for battle with France’s rebellious students and education establishment over his plan to revamp a crumbling university system. Under threat of a summer student uprising, he told the heads of the country’s 85 universities that he was taking charge of a draft law that lays the groundwork for the first significant reform in decades. He has shunted aside Valerie Pecresse, his Higher Education Minister, and Francois Fillon, the Prime Minister, to direct proceedings himself.

Students’ and teachers’ unions are planning protests of the kind that have repeatedly forced French governments to retreat if Mr Sarkozy tries to promote “un-French” practices in higher education. These include entrance selection, fees, private funding and competition among universities. There is, however, public acceptance that, with their 41 per cent drop-out rate and abysmal world ranking, French universities are in dire need of reform. Laurence Parisot, the head of Medef, the French Employers’ Federation, calls them “the shame of our nation”.

Jean-Robert Pitte, the reform-minded president of the Sorbonne division of Paris University, said: “It is a miracle that France is still the world’s fifth-largest [economic] power considering its weak investment in higher education.”

One of the most flagrant ills is the neglect of the rigorously egalitarian facultes, or universities, in favour of a handful of highly selective grandes ecoles. The lavishly funded grandes ecoles, which include Sciences Po, the political sciences institute in Paris, and the Ecole Polytechnique, groom the brightest 4 per cent of students to run business, industry, the state and the media. Middle-class parents yearn to place their offspring in such colleges and dread their relegation to la fac, including those with old names such as Sorbonne. About 1.5 million students are registered at the universities, which are open to all who hold a baccalaureat school-leavers’ certificate.

Liberation, the newspaper that was founded by Maoists in the 1968 student revolt, noted yesterday that the universities are so decrepit that some academics are ashamed to show foreign colleagues around their premises.

In something of a revolution, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Fillon attended universities and their Cabinet has fewer graduates from the elite grande ecoles than any administration since the early 1960s. Mr Sarkozy regards the revamp of the antiquated education system as one of the most urgent, but also potentially explosive, tasks in his drive to revive France. “You cannot keep on saying that the 21st will be the knowledge century and leave our university system in a state of neglect because it is too politically dangerous to reform,” the President told MPs from his centre-right camp last week.

His Bill, due to be published next week, will grant self-management to universities that wish it. This will enable them to manage assets and budgets, recruit staff and design courses – all of which have long been controlled by the state. Mr Sarkozy wants the universities to create partnerships with research institutions and seek finance in addition to the 50 billion euros that he has promised over five years. Student representation on university boards is to be heavily cut. Most of university chiefs favour the reforms in outline but they have told Mr Sarkozy that they are alarmed over what they see as his haste.

The main unions are furiously opposed, seeing autonymous universities as the “Americanisation” of French traditions. “They want to impose on us an antidemocratic system that will confiscate . . . the values of collegiality and equality,” Jean Fabri, the secretary-general of Snesup-FSU, the biggest lecturers’ union, said yesterday. “The Government wants to set the universities in competition among themselves while relinquishing its responsibilities,” he said. “It’s an aberrant and dangerous vision.” Bruno Julliard, a students’ union leader whose 2005 protest movement ended the political career of Dominique de Villepin, the former Prime Minister, wrote to Mr Sarkozy telling him that he faced an all-out battle. “Do not doubt our determination,” Mr Julliard said.

The Socialist Opposition has been showing confusion, deploring Mr Sarkozy’s methods but accepting the need for reform. Francois Hollande, the party leader, said: “Everyone should get together to put French universities into the category of excellence without rushing and incomprehension.”


Teachers don't want to be assessed in Australia either

People in business prosper or go under according to their performance but any shadow of such constraint is too much for our lordly teachers. "Just give us more money" is their refrain

HUNDREDS of teachers rallied in Brisbane today in protest against federal workplace laws and plans for performance-based salaries. Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) spokesman Steve Ryan said delegates to the union's annual conference were met by teachers on school holidays from across the state. About 500 teachers marched from the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre to nearby South Bank for the rally.

Mr Ryan said members were angry at the Government's industrial relations laws, standardised testing of students and performance-based pay for teachers, which was outlined by Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop in April. They were also angry about what he said was underfunding of state schools and TAFE institutions, saying the issues could have a backlash in the lead-up to the federal election.

"We oppose the mixing of industrial relations policies with education," Mr Ryan said. "We will continue to campaign in the context of the federal election, through an industrial-based viewpoint and in an educational sense opposing the policies of the Federal Government." Mr Ryan said performance-based pay did not take into account the workload issues or professional responsibilities which teachers faced and were not a true reflection of what they were worth.

Ms Bishop has threatened to withhold $3 billion in commonwealth education funding if the states refuse to allow performance-pay for state school teachers from 2009. The Federal Government also wants principals to be able to hire and fire teachers, which the union says will destroy the state-based transfer teacher system.


Australian history students may skip the most hallowed events in Australian history

HIGH school students would be able to avoid studying Gallipoli and the Anzacs under the draft Australian history curriculum prepared as a result of last year's history summit. The draft for high school history, obtained by The Australian, also overlooks the achievements of the Hawke-Keating governments and theeconomic reforms of the past 25 years.

A four-member committee that includes controversial historian Geoffrey Blainey and social commentator Gerard Henderson will now review the curriculum for the federal Government, and develop a national Australian history curriculum for Years9 and 10. The Government's refusal to release the draft curriculum has prompted speculation among historians that John Howard intervened in the process and appointed Dr Henderson to ensure his more traditional view of history teaching prevailed.

Historians questioned Dr Henderson's qualifications for the role, and said his appointment suggested the Prime Minister found the draft curriculum - written by Tony Taylor, Monash University professor and head of the National Centre for History Education - too progressive. "This group might see Professor Taylor's draft as not traditional enough and not prescriptive enough and therefore they have been put into position to force the draft into a shape that is more acceptable to the Prime Minister's office," one historian said. The vice-president of the Australian Historical Association, Martin Lyons, said Dr Henderson's inclusion on the committee was puzzling because "he has no experience for this task and his inclusion looks too much like an ideological statement". "He is there to push a certain political line," he said.

The draft curriculum was intended to provide a model for teaching Australian history in a sequential way through primary and high schools, from Years 3 to 10. For high school students, it is structured around 14 guiding questions based on 29 key dates and milestones covering 10 time periods, from the arrival of the first people in 40,000BC to 60,000BC to the late 20th century. Students would be required to study three of four pre-Federation questions, three of four post-Federation questions and two of six questions covering the entire period.

Of the four post-Federation questions, only one deals with Australia going to war and the nation's experience, leaving it open for teachers and students to choose the other three questions dealing with how Australia became a nation, who could be an Australian and the role governments play in improving the welfare of the people.

In the milestone events identified in the curriculum, the period entitled "Shaping Modern Australia" from 1967 to present names the constitutional referendum on Aborigines and the end of the White Australia policy; the protests against the Vietnam War in 1970-71; the dismissal of the Labor government in 1975; the 1992 Mabo judgment; and the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Wollongong University professor of history and politics Gregory Melleuish - author of one of the background papers for the Australian History Summit - criticised the curriculum as providing a patchy view of the nation's history, particularly after World War II. Professor Melleuish said late 20th-century Australian history was presented as a series of social movements including republicanism, feminism and other rights, but was glaring in some of its omissions. "Why is the fall of the Whitlam government seen as one major event and the achievements of the Hawke-Keating governments not seen as counting for anything?" he said.

Also appointed to the review committee were ANU history fellow Nicholas Brown and the NSW school history inspector Jennifer Lawless. But NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca on Monday refused to allow Ms Lawless to participate further in the process. Mr Della Bosca questioned the suitability of Dr Henderson's appointment to the reference group, saying he was not a professional historian.

But Dr Henderson yesterday defended his inclusion, saying he had a PhD in political history and his "extensive list of publications" included two well-reviewed history books. "Della Bosca seems to hold the view that only tenured academics on taxpayer-subsidised campuses are entitled to be regarded as historians," he writes in The Australian today.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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