On 16 October, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) published its concluding observations on France, concerning its five periodic reports. As part of its assessment of France’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, social and cultural rights and related obligations, CESCR considered the right to higher education.
CESCR raises concerns about territorial inequalities in access to and participation in higher education in France, while stressing the decline of the State budgetary allocation per student which is contrary to the ‘obligation to progressively achieve the full realisation’ of the right to higher education.
To inform the review process, the Right to Education initiative (RTE), Fédération des Associations Générales Etudiantes (la FAGE) and the Global Student Forum (GSF) submitted a joint report to CESCR which drew attention to the insufficiency of public policies which aimed to reduce inequalities in access to higher education implemented by the French government since the last French periodic review by CESCR in 2016. The report argued that structural, territorial, and socioeconomic inequalities, as well as France’s higher education financing policy, were hindering equality and non-discrimination in access to higher education and increasing the trend in higher education privatisation.
CESCR has drawn upon this information to make a series of recommendations to France. Among these recommendations include that the State deploys ‘the necessary means to make higher education accessible to all on a basis of full equality, taking into account the needs of students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and of regions where higher education opportunities are limited’. CESCR also recommends that budget allocations are reviewed, with ‘a view to the gradual introduction of free higher education’.
La FAGE, the Right to Education Initiative and Global Student Forum welcome the Committee’s focus on the need for appropriate financing and the eradication of inequalities in access to and participation in higher education.
Delphine Dorsi, Executive Director of the Right to Education Initiative, said: ‘This is a major step forward for the realisation of the right to higher education in France, and a huge success for RTE and other organisations who have campaigned for the realisation of the right to higher education. We have been working to raise awareness on these issue of inequalities for five years in collaboration with students from the Sciences Po Law Clinic, and we’re delighted to see CESCR’s recommendations which are relevant not just within the territory of France, but in other contexts in which inequalities stratify and limit access to and participation in higher education.’
Maëlle Nizan, Chair of la FAGE, said: ‘These recommendations represent real hope for access to French higher education. We congratulate this success, which is the result of a strong commitment on the part of the authors and signatory organisations who submitted the report to the CESCR. For several years now, the FAGE has been denouncing the underfunding of our public higher education system, which seriously affects study conditions and undermines student success. What's more, students are becoming increasingly insecure, and studying is becoming a luxury. The government's failure to take ambitious action to eradicate inequalities in access to education is extremely worrying. Our higher education system must be accessible and guarantee equal opportunities.’
Sebastian Berger, Executive Director of Global Student Forum, stated: ‘The Committee's recommendations highlight the pressing need for equitable access to higher education in France. This is a crucial step towards dismantling barriers and ensuring that every student, regardless of background, has an equal opportunity to pursue higher education.’
CESCR is composed of independent experts and mandated to monitor how states who have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are complying with their obligations. The concluding observations on France follow a process of examination of its reports and an open call for alternative reports from civil society, and contain an assessment of the State’s progress, along with a series of recommendations.
Notes to editors
Paragraphs in the CESCR Concluding Observations (E/C.12/FRA/CO/5) relating to higher education (official version only available in French, English translation unofficial):
56. The Committee is concerned about the difficulties experienced in gaining access to higher education by students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and not those from regions where higher education opportunities are limited. The Committee is concerned about the steady decline in the budget per student allocated by the State, which is contrary to the obligation to progressively achieve the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant (arts. 13 and 14).
57. The Committee recommends that the State party deploy the necessary means to make higher education accessible to all on a basis of full equality, taking into account the needs of students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and of regions where higher education opportunities are limited. The Committee also recommends that the State party review the allocation of the higher education budget with a view to the gradual introduction of free higher education.
About the Right to Education Initiative
The Right to Education Initiative (RTE) is a non-governmental international human rights organisation dedicated entirely to the promotion and defence of the right to education.
RTE promotes and defends education as a human right worldwide, by: protecting and strengthening the international legal, political and institutional framework that guarantees the right to education and guides its implementation at national level; and strengthening civil society actors' capacity to understand and effectively use human rights law and mechanisms to advance the realisation of the right to education at all levels through monitoring, reporting, advocacy and litigation.
About la FAGE
The Fédération des Associations Générales Étudiantes (FAGE) is a French association whose aim is to improve the living and studying conditions of young people. With a network of more than 60 federations in different regions and fields, it is the leading organisation representing students in France.
FAGE's aim is to guarantee equal opportunities for success in the education system. This is why it carries out activities in the field of representing and defending rights. By managing services and projects that meet social needs, it is also involved in social innovation.
FAGE is independent of political parties, professional unions and student insurance. Activist and pluralist, it bases its actions on humanist, republican and European values. A stakeholder in the non-profit social economy, it is also approved by the government as a youth and popular education organisation.
To empower young people, FAGE trains thousands of young volunteers every year. Through the FAGE, young people find a formidable civic tool for debating, undertaking projects and taking on responsibilities in society.
About Global Student Forum
The Global Student Forum is the umbrella organisation of the world’s major representative, independent and democratic student unions. It defends the educational, cultural, economic and social interests of more than 300 million learners worldwide in the decision making spaces of the international community. Through its multi-level democratic governance structure spanning from the local to the international level, the GSF ensures legitimate representation of constituency interests and political accountability.