French education unions are taking a stand against the planned increase in tuition fees for non-EU students.
On 19 November 2018, the French Prime Minister announced that tuition fees for students from non-EU member states would rise considerably from the beginning of the 2019 academic year: These fees are to rise to €2,770 for undergraduate students (from €170) and €3,770 for those studying at masters and doctorate level (from €243 and €380 respectively).
The French unions, a number of which are members of Education International (EI), as well as trade union confederations, are strongly against these plans and are demanding that the government abandon them.
Interunion call of 18 January
In an interunion call on 18 January, leaders asked their members to mobilise. Action was to commence on 22 January and end only when the plans to stop the proposed tuition fee increase for non-EU students had been abandoned.
They explained that “this increase will lead to financial difficulties for some of the poorest foreign students and risks forcing many to give up their studies in France altogether. The consequences for our courses and our research laboratories would be disastrous”.
They also see this tuition fee increase as an “attack on the humanist and universalist values of the French university system,” and “on public research, with one third of doctoral students coming from outside the EU”.
The signatory organisations highlight the fact that, “these students contribute to the scientific output of our laboratories and enrich our international exchanges”.
Furthermore, they fear that “this measure will lead to a general increase in fees for all students studying in France”, and “advocate a university model based on free education that is open to all irrespective of nationality or geographic origin”.
The signatory union organisations are calling for support and urging their members to take part in union mobilisation initiatives, nationally and locally, until the plans have been abandoned.
Petition in defence of student equality
A petition has already received over 310,000 signatures. EI is encouraging people to support the petition.
EI strongly regrets this attack on universities as international spaces that welcome people from all over the world and promote inclusion, democracy, global citizenship, and equal rights.
According to the unions, the French government is introducing economic, social and geographical discrimination endangering education and paving the way for its full commodification. This increase will have a dramatic effect on universities and research laboratories, given that most foreign students studying in France (including one in three doctoral students) come from outside the UE. The number of students, and therefore their contributions to international collaboration and knowledge, will thus fall considerably.
EI, alongside the French unions, is particularly alarmed at the possibility that these plans are a prelude to a tuition fee increase for all students, to reduce public spending on higher education and turn studying into a commercial product in the marketplace.
Strong support from European education unions
In a letter dated 22 February, the members of the Standing Committee for Higher Education and Research (HERSC) of EI’s European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), expressed their robust and unanimous support with the French organisations.
Support from their higher education colleagues throughout Europe was clear and firm. They wrote, “representing academics and education personnel working in the post-secondary education and/or research sectors across Europe, we strongly back your demands to withdraw the French Governments’ plan to bring in higher tuition fees for students coming from countries outside the European Union to study in France”.
They further state that they “strongly believe that quality education is and should remain a fundamental human right and a public good as it is enshrined in European and international laws”.
Echoing the key demands of the ETUCE Campaign ‘Shape the Future of Europe with Teachers’, they emphasise that “education is fundamental for every citizen. It is a basic human right and a public good, and as such governments in Europe are accountable and responsible for it. ETUCE demands that every child and student have access to free of charge high quality education adapted to his/her needs and regardless of his/her socio-economic background.”
“We believe that the foreseen measures of the French Government, indeed, jeopardise access to education and pave the way for its further commodification that we strongly denounce,” European education unionists concluded.