Sarkozy stalls on university reform bill - fearing student protests

Last updated at 13:22 27 June 2007

France's conservative government, wary of sparking student protests, said it might water down plans to give universities more independence after student union leaders stepped up their complaints.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose conservatives hold a majority in parliament, hopes to push his plans through this summer but does not want to spark protests of the kind that have sunk previous university reforms.

Higher education minister Valerie Pecresse said the proposals could be amended, a day after the government agreed to delay unveiling its final bill to allow more time for discussion with student leaders.

After teachers' representatives and student leaders met Sarkozy and herself, Pecresse said she would present a new text that was "enriched through dialogue".

"The concerns of some were heard, as well as the willingness to change of others," Pecresse said, adding she would meet student and university representatives again.

The government wants to make universities more dynamic by letting them control their finances and introducing a selection process for masters' courses to try to boost their international standing.

Students' unions say many universities are not ready for more independence and resist the idea of limiting access to courses, saying higher education should be open to everyone.

They also fear their power could be cut at university governing bodies.

Student leaders seemed upbeat over possible changes to the reform plans after their meeting with Sarkozy.

"Sarkozy showed himself open on the composition of (university) bodies, notably the governing council," said Bruno Julliard, head of the Unef student union.

Teacher representatives leaving the meeting with Sarkozy also said the government might change some of the policy plans.

Elected last month, Sarkozy wants to push the reform through parliament alongside tax and justice reforms which he says are needed to modernise France.

France's student unions have proved their power in the past.

Last year, the conservative government at the time was forced to scrap a labour law that would have made it easier to hire and lay off young workers after weeks of student protests.

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