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Increase in the number of students: how is higher education adapting?

► How are student numbers changing?

They are on the rise, for the fifteenth consecutive year: 2.99 million students are expected this fall, i.e. 0.8% more than the consolidated numbers for 2021. This increase should continue for several more years, before a probable decline: primary and secondary education should lose half a million students by 2027.

There is indeed a peak in births in 2010 (823,000 children, against 738,000 last year), a cohort which will be old enough to begin studies in 2028. These developments should be placed in the context of a spectacular “democratization” of studies: 310,000 students in 1960, 1.1 million in 1980, 2.1 million in 2000…

That said, it is difficult to anticipate with certainty the evolution of student demographics. As one statistician points out, “projections depend on a multitude of factors” : the rate of continuation of studies; the baccalaureate success rate (the record number of graduates in 2020 resulted in a massive influx into higher education); the number of foreign students (278,000 last year)…

Another factor is the duration of the studies. The Minister of Higher Education and Research, Sylvie Retailleau, should announce, during her back-to-school press conference, this Thursday, September 15, a reform to facilitate possible professional integration from the license.

► How is higher education adapting?

At the start of the last school year, the government had created 19,000 more places for students. For years, the universities have also multiplied the training “with limited capacity”: unsuccessful candidates are invited to enroll in courses less in demand. This is also the spirit of Parcoursup. By modulating the possibilities of applying outside its geographical area, the platform has also made it possible to direct future students towards less demographically dynamic academies.

There remains a major difficulty: the curve of teacher-researchers does not follow that of students. According to Françoise Lambert, national secretary of the Sgen-CFDT, we would have lost in a few years a thousand teachers of higher education. “This translates into a drop in management rates and a deterioration in working conditions”, she observes, referring to “a multiplication of burn-outs and departures”. To cope, universities resort more to contract workers or individual contractors, from whom they may possibly be separated when the population declines.

► What about the traffic jam at the gates of the master?

In recent years, the pressure is particularly strong at the entrance of the masters. “There are about as many places in the first year of a master’s as there are license graduates, but some courses are in high demand, others not so much, notes Guillaume Gellé, vice-president of France Universities. A selection is therefore essential if we want to guarantee a reasonable number of students and the quality of these training courses, backed by research, and which prepare them effectively for employment. »

To streamline the system, the universities have harmonized the application calendars. A digital platform also made it possible to better visualize the offer and to apply.

► Can distance learning be a solution?

This could be a temptation, especially where there is a lack of premises. But that would be a bad calculation, believes Guillaume Gellé, because distance or hybrid education requires “more team commitment”. “After the confinements, we are trying to develop good practices, with real financial support from the State. But this digital transformation can only aim for the success and personalization of courses. »


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