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Should university fees be increased?

Back, everyone! The executive has gone to great lengths in recent days to extinguish the fire created by Emmanuel Macron’s remarks, made on January 13, on the evolution of the higher education system. Closing the congress of France Universities (ex-Conference of university presidents), the Head of State had notably declared ” [qu’on] will not be able to remain permanently in a system where higher education has no price for almost all students”.

Would he intend to increase the registration fees? ” At no moment “, replied Saturday the Minister of Higher Education, Frédérique Vidal. Then, Emmanuel Macron himself warned, during a trip to Creuse on Monday, against the “bad” interpretations of his words: “What I was talking about is rather lifelong professional training, which universities will have to put in place and which are intended to be paid for. »

Whatever his real intentions were, the subject is in any case on the table. Is the increase in the cost of higher education a path to follow? Let us first recall that a substantial increase in registration fees was recorded in 2019 for foreign students outside the European Union. They must now pay 2,770 euros per year for a bachelor’s degree and 3,770 euros for a master’s degree. The same year, however, the Constitutional Council established the intangibility of the principle of free education, including in higher education.

foreign experiences

For the rest, we can start by observing foreign experiences. An increase in tuition fees took place in countries such as Australia in 1989 and the United Kingdom from 1995 without the rate of access to universities appearing to fall. It was accompanied by the introduction of income-conditional repayment loans (Parc), granted by the State or banks benefiting from public guarantees. Loans that students, once in working life, repay only according to their abilities.

The economist Eric Maurin relied precisely on the case of Australia to support the option of an increase in tuition fees in France with the establishment of a Park system. In fact, Australian students today pay some of the highest tuition fees in OECD countries, after the UK, Japan, Korea, the US and Chile.

How can we explain, then, that in Australia the share of the population going as far as university education is one of the highest in the OECD countries with 50%, against an average of 43% and a rate of 44% in France ? Perhaps this is due to the fact that at the same time, 13.4% of total Australian public expenditure goes towards education, which is more than the average for the OECD (11.3%) and France (8. 4%).

Behind the increase in registration fees, there is the idea that free admission would lead to a form of “disempowerment” of students

However, for Frédéric Neyrat, professor of sociology at the University of Rouen, the increase in university registration fees responds to the idea that if the latter is practically free, students will not invest in it, in other words that free admission would lead to a form of “de-responsibilization” of young people.

The researcher refers in particular to a proposal by Robert Gary-Bobo and Alain Trannoy made in the French journal of economics in 2005, which would have consisted in increasing the registration fees to 4,000 euros per year. For these economists, such an increase would be a means of natural selection thanks to which students who feel fragile would not take the risk of enrolling. Robert Gary-Bobo had also renewed this proposal in 2016 in a note he had written for the candidate Emmanuel Macron and which had been revealed within the framework of the Macron Leaks.

However, this is based on the false idea that baccalauréat holders “correctly estimate their level”, explains Frédéric Neyrat, which is far from always being the case, in particular among girls and young people from working-class backgrounds, who are more inclined to underestimate. It is also to forget, he recalls, that in the big business schools, paying, the students devote themselves a lot to student life, once admitted, rather than to school work. strictly speaking.

An underfunded university

As Franck Loureiro, Deputy Secretary General of Sgen-CFDT, in charge of higher education, points out, the problem is that French universities are extremely underfunded. In question, in particular: the dualism of higher education and the fact that “the State invests three to six times more per student in the Grandes Ecoles”.

“The university must remain a free public service, open to all”says Isabelle This Saint-Jean, economist and columnist at Economic Alternatives. While the country’s qualification needs are increasing, the influx of students has been managed with constant means, she recalls, leading to a collapse in average funding per student and in university supervision. As she points out in one of her columns, the average expenditure per student, which amounted to 11,530 euros in 2019, is down for the sixth consecutive year and has lost nearly 8% in ten years since it was €12,520 in 2009.

Comparative data also show that, contrary to a received idea peddled by Emmanuel Macron’s speech, French higher education is far from being “much more financed by public money than anywhere in the world”France being, from this point of view, far from the Nordic countries.

Moreover, even if Australia has maintained a high level of public spending on higher education, in the United Kingdom and the United States, the increase in tuition fees has rather been accompanied by a withdrawal of the state in this area.

In addition, many studies, presented by David Flacher, Hugo Harari, Léonard Moulin in 2012, reveal that the increase in registration fees and the establishment of student loan systems represent obstacles to the entry of working classes. at University. For low-income families, “the ability to project oneself and to say to oneself that a job will be able to repay the loan is not self-evident”emphasizes Frédéric Neyrat.

In a column published on Tuesday, David Flacher and Hugo Harari-Kermadec add that “Fee-based university systems have demonstrated the damage they can do around the world. They are widely contested and are beginning to be questioned”, as was the case in Chile recently. In their eyes, the revival of this hypothesis in the French debate therefore has everything of an anachronism.

The mantra of “professionalization”

The university needs a “systemic transformation”added Emmanuel Macron, however, calling for training to be made “more effectively professionalizing”. What does that mean ? For Anne Roger, secretary general of Snesup, this professionalization of the university is underway since the integration rates of graduates are progressing. Franck Loureiro adds for his part that the bachelors universities of technology (BUT), professional licenses and work-study programs have continued to develop at the university.

Allowing students to follow more hours of multidisciplinary teaching might be the best way to improve their employability

Moreover, seeking the perfect balance between training and employment is often a decoy. In the United Kingdom, for example, university training is very general, the idea being to give young people the keys to then manage on the job market, by developing their ” soft skills or interpersonal skills: communication skills, empathy, team spirit, etc. Allowing first-year university students to access more hours of multidisciplinary teaching would therefore perhaps be a better way to improve their employability.

To fight against the degraded image of the university, Franck Loureiro therefore proposes rather to attenuate the duality of the French system between selective and non-selective training. This is why he approves of Emmanuel Macron’s idea of ​​bringing together grandes écoles and universities. And recalls that before being unraveled, the Fioraso law (2013) obliged the various establishments of a given territory to work on a common project.

Finally, Frédéric Neyrat recalls that student life also has a cost, which is poorly covered by scholarships, the amounts of which are very low in France. In particular, he points to the shortcomings and lack of comfort in student accommodation compared to a country like Germany where they are more developed, more comfortable and more user-friendly.

It is time, as Isabelle This Saint-Jean suggests, for higher education to become a real priority for the public authorities.

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