Covid-19 restrictions to remain in place, Macron warns protesting students

Macron was meeting a group of students at Paris-Saclay university, to hear their complaints and concerns over issues raised by Covid-19 restrictions, such as loneliness and despair over the economic downturn impacting their job prospects. Students, like everyone else, are subject to a 6pm-to-6am curfew. “You need to take care of each other,” he said, recognising that many students were deprived of the chance to make new friends and establish relationships. Macron warned that the second semester would still “have the virus and a lot of constraints” that went along with it. 

French President Emmanuel Macron meets with students at the Paris-Saclay University on January 21, 2021.
French President Emmanuel Macron meets with students at the Paris-Saclay University on January 21, 2021

Macron said he would look to ensure universities provide daily meals priced at a euro a day and to see if they could allow students a day a week on campus. First-year students in France will be permitted to attend classroom tutorials beginning January 25, but only in groups that are half the normal size. 

Student protests

Macron’s comments followed recent demonstrations in Paris and other cities that saw students protest Covid-19 restrictions, which they said were pushing young people to the brink of despair with solitude and financial uncertainty. There have been cases of suicides at universities in France, and around the world, blamed on the loneliness caused by lockdowns.

At a Paris protest earlier this week, Melanie Luce, president of France’s national student union UNEF, said classes should be opened for “all students” even if reduced class size meant having to recruit more teachers in order to hold class twice over. “We think the government does not understand the magnitude of the situation,” she added, saying the protests aimed to “defend the students’ academic and social life”. Some 250 took to the streets in the western city of Rennes, where Josselin, 21, said he was “in despair over the solitude”. “I am all alone, by myself in my 18m2 (194 square feet). Today I received my first lesson via PDF and was told to ‘get by’. There are teachers who no longer even make the effort to hold video conferences”. UNEF has said that a 1.5 billion euro ($1.8 billion) emergency plan is needed for students, urging an immediate raise in grants and help to pay for accommodation.

Source: France 24

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European Higher Education Organization is a public organization carrying out academic, educational and information activities on higher education in Europe.

The EHEO general plan stresses that:

  • Higher education systems require adequate funding and, as an investment in economic growth, public spending in higher education should be protected.
  • The challenges faced by higher education require more flexible governance and funding systems, which balance greater autonomy for education institutions with accountability to stakeholders.

Thus, EHEO plans:

  • improve academic and scientific interaction of universities;
  • protect the interests of universities;
  • interact more closely with public authorities of European countries;
  • popularize European higher education in the world;
  • develop academic mobility;
  • seek funding for European universities.