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French Students Angry Over Reforms Disrupt Classes


French university students angry over a law making their schools more market-friendly have shut down classes at several campuses across France and are mobilizing to join nationwide protests later this month over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s reforms.

For the past week, students have disrupted classes, at least sporadically, at about 10 campuses, from Montpellier and Toulouse in the south to Rennes in the west and the Tolbiac campus of the University of Paris, according to the Education Ministry.

The reforms, passed by lawmakers in August, will make all state-run French universities independent within five years, granting them the right to control their own budgets, raise tuition and accept private donations. Proponents believe the law will make French graduates more competitive in the global marketplace by improving facilities and reducing university dropout rates.

“The law is very, very good. It’s going to help us to partner with companies and will make the transition to the working world and internships a lot easier,” said Matthieu Devriendt, a master’s candidate at the University of Paris I. “Everyone agrees, except a few students.”

Those who protest the coming changes argue that allowing private companies to fund specific departments will diminish funding for the humanities and erode near-equal access for everyone to higher education.

Education Minister Valerie Pecresse, speaking on France-Info radio, urged student leaders on Tuesday to “take a chance on dialogue” with her. “I want French universities to shine,” she said.

The move is part of Sarkozy’s larger reform agenda, which includes raising the retirement age from 55 to 60 for certain public employees and reducing benefits packages.

Labor unions are readying for national strikes Nov. 20 to protest these and other Sarkozy proposals. National student unions have promised to join the movement in solidarity.

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