On June 3 2021, RTE and the Paris Sciences Po Law School Clinic organized a round table discussion on inequalities in higher education in France. The online event that took place marked the end of another year of collaboration between the two organizations, as part of an ongoing pilot project on monitoring inequalities in higher education in France.
Bringing together researchers, students and human rights experts since 2018, the project has resulted in the publication of a report (2019) and a policy brief (2020) on the influence of place and origin and of indirect costs in the realization of the right to higher education as well as a thematic web page on the right to higher education and a blog series on Covid-19 and higher education (2021).
Right to Education Initiative executive director, Delphine Dorsi, highlighted the importance of promoting the right to higher education :
“The right to education does not only cover primary and secondary education but also higher education. Ensuring access to higher education without discriminations is essential to address the existing inequalities in society and to allow a better representativity of different groups in decision positions for instance.Engaging the students in this project reflects our will to empower those that are the very right-holders of the right to higher education through research and advocacy.”
Roman Zinigrad, post doctoral fellow at the American University of Paris and clinical fellow at Sciences Po Law School Clinic, has been supervising the project for the last three years - with the collaboration of Ana Hovartin for the year 2020-2021. He highlighted the importance of this initiative:
“Little research has been dedicated to education as a legal subject, specially in the field of human rights and from an international perspective. The study that was carried out by the students offers a substantial and particularly relevant contribution to legal research on education and to the right to education itself. Challenging mainstream theories according to which higher education is a lever for social mobility, the research demonstrates that the very legal mechanisms and institutions that are supposed to ensure equality in opportunities in life can, conversely, reinforce social inequality and frustrate any chances of social mobility”.
The main conclusions of the three year research study were presented in the event by Inès Girard, Fiona Vanston and Elodie Faïd, students from the 2020 class participating in the project. They pointed out that while the impact of socioeconomic inequalities on access to higher education in France has been largely documented, little attention has been given to the way they intersect with other variables (such as place of origin and indirect costs, for example) and to the wider consequences of the combination of cross-cutting inequalities.
The study shows that while some French regions offer a wide variety of higher education institutions, with diversity in discipline, programmes and courses, others have a very limited number of options. Consequently, students have to move across regions to have access to higher education.
Regional mobility considerably increases the cost of studies, with indirect costs such as housing and transportation weighing heavily on student's budgets. For instance, rent for a small flat in Paris is more than double the rent for a similar appartement in the cities of Le Mans or Poitiers. Because academic hubs are concentrated in urban metropolitan areas where the cost of living can be very high, students that move from one region to another for their studies face additional difficulties to follow through with their higher education diploma.
Therefore, regional differences in standards of living cross-cut indirect costs of mobility and social economic disparities. Place of origin can thus be considered as grounds for discrimination, hindering equality in access to higher education.
Watch the full recording of the round table below, and read the blog series on Covid 19 and higher education developed as part of the ongoing collaboration between RTE and Sciences Po here.