Edouard Philippe, French PM. Source : EDOUARD PHILIPPE, TWITTER, 19 Nov. 2018
Under the media saturation of Yellow Jackets protest last weekend, the government has announced a plan which could possibly affect hundreds of thousands international students in France.
On the 19th November 2018, Edouard Philippe, the Prime Minister has announced a strategy called #BienvenueEnFrance to boost the attractivity of French universities. Included in the reforms is a plan for Non-European students to contribute more in the form of their inscription fees. From academic year 2019 onwards, Non-Europeans would have to pay about 15 times more than what they currently pay; from 170 Euros they currently pay each year, equal to that of a French student, to 2.770 Euros in bachelor’s degree.
This hike in French university inscription fee for foreign students made me recall a very important phrase from an economics class. Back when I was in High School from a country where I am from, Thailand, my teacher taught me that:
“If you find that something is too expensive, then probably that thing is not made to be marketed to you.”
I have never imagined that the phrase would, one day, apply to my higher education in France. The country which have taught me to appreciate Liberté, and Fraternité, is now abandoning Égalité in pursuit of richer students who could “afford” to be educated – in pursuit of a more “marketable” students.
Ever since I embarked on an aeroplane four years ago in 2014, I have always appreciated the holistic vision of French education. Whatever is your background, wherever you are from, whatever is your political or religious belief, you are all equal in a French university. You are all given the chance to be successful and to take the social elevator, that is education, towards a better future. Financial background is not an obstacle to your success. Rather, education is an asset for your financial success.
This vision has always been one of the points in which I identify most with France: The fact that you don’t have to be rich, nor even French, to be able to access higher education. Whenever any of my friends or family asked me or my parents “How much do you have to pay in order to study in France?” My parents and I would answer with pride: “170 Euros, equal to that of a French student. For that is the French vision of education.”
6 rue Rollet, Université Jean Moulin Lyon III. Source : Bruno Amsellem
Neither the Americans, nor the British or the Australians, countries which Mr. Philippe is trying to catch-up in terms of international students welcomed, would share this unique French exceptionalism. Worse, it could even be argued that in those countries, the vision of education is skewed so far that it could be considered as a business rather than public service. Education is an investment in the strictest financial sense of the word, a notion which would have Alexander von Humboldt crying from the netherworld.
Yet, with this plan to “Welcome” more international students, France is renouncing that exceptionalism. It seems as if the allure of monetary gains from taxing international students for their right to study outweighs the foundation of internationally-accessible university which is blind to colour, race, nationality or religion.
Indeed, it is this internationally accessible climate that my promotion has got accustomed to. We became friends with students from Korea, Russia, Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, El Salvador, Mexico and more. These are Non-EU students who might not have been able to be our friends if this policy went through three years earlier. We exchanged our cultures and shared our different vision of the world.
But most of all, we, from all nationalities, are learning from France; we are learning the French way of life, the French ideals of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, the French mentality, and the uniquely French exception to nationalism. If I am writing this article today, it is due to the admiration that I have for this country and its ideals, and certainly not the contrary.
That being said, I may very well have to pay 3.770 Euros next year for my master’s degree, but I will continue to let France learn from me. She will learn from my diversity, from my culture, from our dreams to contribute to this exceptional country and from our sincere wishes to make France shine in the global stage as a diverse and socially inclusive country, notwithstanding our national nor financial background.
Today, it pains me that France is abandoning diversity in university as she strides for excellence. Ironically, it is this very diversity that makes French university excellent. I hope that the leaders will learn the value of this great pride of France, her inclusive university system, which she is about to abandon.
So, in the tradition of Liberté that I have learned to appreciate in French University, I would like to take this liberty to follow in the footsteps of Émile Zola, one of the greatest French writers, to defend French higher education we believe in:
I Accuse, Emmanuel Macron, The President of the Republic, for selling out French Universities and its ideals in pursuit of monetary gains and for not taking necessary measures to fund public universities.
I Accuse, Edouard Philippe, The Prime Minister of France, for trying to mask this neoliberal policy with the “least coherent excuse” of boosting attractivity and for trying to turn French students against International students.
I Accuse, Jacques Comby, President of Lyon III and the President in Charge of International Relations at the Conférence des Présidents d’Université (CPU), for implying that there could be anything that can be offered in place of Equality in French higher education by saying « Tout dépend de ce qu’on leur offre en compensation ».
This Article is an independent Op-Ed for Jean-Moulin Post. The position of the writer on this article does not in anyway reflect the position of the editorial of Jean-Moulin Post.
Wish Yardpaga, LIII STUDENT IN LAW AND POLITICAL SCIENCES