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French universities reopen after longest strike

Article published on the 2009-05-21 Latest update 2009-05-21 10:25 TU

French university students sit beneath a banner in Bordeaux.(Photo: Reuters)

French university students sit beneath a banner in Bordeaux.
(Photo: Reuters)

Following government threats that students would lose their semester if they didn’t take down their barricades, French universities are reopening, one-by-one, after 15 weeks of strikes against education reforms.

Only three of the 50 universities that were on strike are still holding out Thursday. The tide turned Tuesday night, when students, professors and administrative staff at the ever-symbolic Sorbonne University in Paris voted in a mass meeting to lift blockades that prevented classes being held and go back to class.

At the Sorbonne campus on Wednesday, there were many long faces and frustrated words from the strikers, who felt that they didn’t gain any concessions from the government. But not everyone saw it as a total defeat.

“It has been a blow to the morale of some people,” said Yves Figueiredo, an American studies professor at the Sorbonne. “But as far as I’m concerned, it certainly is not.”

Figueiredo, who sits on the strike committee, sees it as an opportunity. “Exams will be held, which means that we can concentrate on the movement again.”

“We voted to end the blockade, but not the strike,” said student organiser Lester, who refused to give his last name. "We lost a little bit of the force in the battle, but the strike will go on."

The strike started in February when professors - in some cases supported by university presidents – struck against university reforms which inclueded a plan to shorten the amount of training for future high school teachers.

They were joined by the students and the administrative staff in the longest university strike in French history.

But the government didn’t budge during the four-month strike, except to promise to delay the reforms for one year.

On Monday, Higher Education Minister Valérie Pécresse sent a letter to the president of the Sorbonne telling him that if the university wasn’t reopened, and students didn’t have their exams, she would remove him from his post and send police to remove the blockades.

Faced with this threat, the students, professors and other staff voted to reopen school – to hold three weeks of emergency tutorials and hold quick exams three weeks late.

Pécresse even promised an extra month of bursaries for students so that they wouldn’t run out of money.

For Auvert the strike has only been put on hold, and they’ll be back in September.

“We still don’t accept the Ministers' reforms,” he says.


 On France 24 TV

University strikes gradually wind down