Interior Minister Tests Affirmative Action in French Higher Education

American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers website, Dec. 5, 2005

Nicolas Sarkozy, Interior Minister of France, has chosen a university campus to be a “laboratory for positive discrimination.” According to Le Monde, the Léonard-de-Vinci campus will become a testing ground for affirmative action, led by Richard Descoings, director of the Institute of Political Studies of Paris. Sarkozy has stepped out in a controversial act, opposed by President Jacques Chirac, to test what he believes to be a necessary step toward economic and racial equality in France.

Affirmative action is a controversial topic in France, where “Liberty, Fraternity and Equality”—the national motto and concept of Human Rights—are expected to be granted without government intervention, by colleges and employers alike. But for many, increasing unrest and last month’s riots prove that this expectation has not been a viable one without further effort. Over the last year, many media-led investigations have revealed that children of immigrants often find themselves excluded from higher education and employment alike, due to the name on their resume. The future of racial and economic minorities in France has been bleak, and with the pressure caused by riots in France’s suburbs last month, government leaders have responded with actions to pave the way for a different future.

Chirac opposes affirmative action, and has instead proposed other methods to reduce inequalities for disadvantaged youth, including volunteer civil service, “associating formation and accompaniment.” On affirmative action, he declared: “We must not enter into the logic of quotas, that points out those who take advantage of it and is unjust for those that do not have access to it.”

According to a nationwide survey, only 29% of the French trust him to bring a solution to the problems in the suburbs. 53% of French trust Nicolas Sarkozy on this topic, and 52% trust Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

According to Alain Touraine, journalist for Le Monde, French national and cultural pride keeps the country united, but with France’s rapidly changing demographic, the challenge is for its people to cease viewing France as “the agent of the universal values, and [as if it] had the right, in the name of this mission, to treat as lower all those which do not correspond to this ‘me’ national ideal.”

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