Is There a European Approach of Service-Learning in Higher Education?
Higher Education Framework in France
The State decides precisely on the content of certain higher education programmes (like BTS and DUT). As for LMD (Bachelors-Masters-Doctorate) or DU (University diplomas), there is a Law (Loi relative aux libertés et responsabilités des universités – called “Loi LRU” ou “Loi Pécresse”) that allows public universities to decide upon the specific content and way of programme delivering. Although universities have always benefitted from a substantial level of autonomy, this law strengthens such autonomy. This means that, although government provides general guidelines for Bachelors programmes to make sure that each discipline’s basic concepts and notions are tackled, universities can create new programs on any topic and have more options to get funding other than the State to do so. Concerning the private higher education institutions, some are recognized by the State (in terms of program content and professorship), and others aren’t (and, thus, need to establish partnerships with those recognized if they wish their programs to be officially recognized in the country). These institutions are free to develop their programs and set their tuition fees. If they wish to be fully recognized, they need, however, to follow the (broad) framework established by the State. Institutions that are not recognized, in the practice, tend to align on programs from recognized and renowned higher education institutions. At last, there are few differences between both public and private as for government influence on the curriculum.
More recently, France has established a legal framework so that universities review their teaching policies to integrate the so-called “student engagement” in the undergraduate curriculum. Article 29 of the Law 2017-86 on equality and citizenship, issued on January 27, 2017, made the recognition of student engagement compulsory for French Higher Education Institutions (HEI). As a result, Article L611-9 was included in the country’s Code of Education. The law was completed by Decree n°2017-962, issued on May 10, 2017, on the Recognition of students’ engagement in associations, civil society organizations, and professional life. According to the Decree, Higher Education Institutions are required to implement measures ensuring that competences, knowledge and know-how acquired by the above-mentioned students are taken into account and qualify for the degree they pursue.
The educational tradition to access French higher education, students must possess the “Bac” (exam taken at the end of high school to enter university), and, for some disciplines, they must have followed some specific disciplinary itineraries when at high school. There are two main modes to access higher education: 1) “Parcoursup” – Once the “Bac” obtained, students choose several degrees they wish to study. Following the number of spots available and depending on type of high school itinerary, an algorithm associates students with one of the degree options chosen. Scores obtained at “Bac” have no influence at all. 2) “Classes préparatoires” – Depending on the score obtained at “Bac”, students can opt for a “class prépa”, which is a one- or two-year preparation class to access Grandes Ecoles (and sometimes SciencesPo).
Students possessing a Bachelor’s can automatically go on for a Masters. As for acceptance, each university has its selection grid, which is applied case by case (sometimes depending on the score, previous studies, and trajectory, future motivations…).
There are great disparities with regard to the third mission of universities: some are extremely committed to being actors in their settings, others quite inward-looking… although, generally speaking, there is a move towards becoming more responsible, more environmentally sustainable, more committed to society, more inclusive…
Regarding French teaching tradition. There is a trend towards a smaller number of textbook-based learning. Pedagogy depends on the number of students in the class and also on each professor’s preferences (although some HEI authorities try to impose problem-based courses or at least to increase the use of similar pedagogies in their settings). There are also some higher education institutions that offer seminars favouring professors-students interactions on the basis of invited professors and at-class reading of works.
The relationship between civil society and higher education institutions is complex. Some universities have developed longstanding durable relationships, whereas others are not that advanced, but still, there are quite a lot of university-company or university-industry partnerships. Generally speaking, French higher education institutions are extremely well integrated within the socio-economic tissue, there are grants for students to do internships within companies or civil society organizations while continuing to study, and there are even laws allowing for funding taxes that further encourage such interaction and partnerships.
Montserrat Alom (Directrice du Centre International de Recherche et d’Aide à la Décision (CIRAD), Fédération Internationale des Universités Catholiques (FIUC))