Hard Times for French Students

Photo: Le Parisien

Although in many ways French students are better-off financially than their American, British and Canadian counterparts, student life in France is getting more and more expensive. The situation has lead the two main student unions, the Union Nationale des Etudiants de France (UNEF) and the Fédération des Associations Générales Étudiantes (FAGE), to ring the bell.

The UNEF and FAGE’s surveys have respectively disclosed that the cost of student life will rise for the 2012-2013 year – between 2.6% according to FAGE, an increase of 50% over the past 10 years, and 3.7% according to the UNEF. This rise represents almost the double of the inflation in France.

On its survey, the UNEF found the various causes of such an increase was first and foremost the increase in rent –10.8% in Paris and 2.3% in Province. According to the UNEF, accommodation makes up 45% of a student’s budget.  Second are food prices, which have risen by 3.2%, and tuition fees including inscription, student social security expenses, and university restaurant tickets has all increased by 2%. Additionally, as is the same for everyone in France and around the world, students must pay transportation costs and are affected by overall price increases on everyday products.

Students in France receive various financial support that can help them fund the cost of the student life: including parents (if they can afford it), family allowances, and scholarships. Depending on their social criteria, students can receive grants from the CROUS, the Regional Centre for University and School Works. There are 7 different levels of grants available. The Level 0 exempts students from tuition fees and student social security expenses, but students do not receive money. For the 2011-2012 year, student from the levels 1 to 6 could receive between €1606 to €4600 for the 10 months of the academic year, so as to help them fund their education and student life costs.

Between 2007 and 2011 the number of scholarship students has increased by 24.5% and the amount of the grants has increased by 20%. However the UNEF declares that 80% of French students do not receive grants, while the current crisis has taken its toll families who cannot financially support their children in school.

As a result, most students who do not receive financial aid, from their families or the government, have two choices. They can decide to use a bank loan, or to work a part time job while in school. In the first case, if students cannot easily find a job after graduation, it becomes incredibly difficult for them to pay back loans. The second option is usually the most common circumstance.

73% of the students have a part time job according to the UNEF. From baby-sitters to waitresses and teachers, there are plenty of opportunities for young and motivated students. However, many of these jobs are difficult to secure without experience, and usually clash with students’ timetables at the University, even if it is just a 15 hours per week contract. As a result, students usually have to dedicate more time to their jobs rather than their studies. Consequently, many of them fail the final exams, and the vicious cycle still goes on.

The two student unions have proposed various solutions to solve this problem. The UNEF is asking for the autonomy allowance promised by François Hollande during his campaign so as to “fight students impoverishment.” The aim is to double the scholarship budget by re-orienting the funds of a tax exemption for families with a dependent student. FAGE asks for a form of global independence aid. This will be the combination of the CROUS’s grants with family allowances and will be financed by the tax exemption funds that the UNEF suggested.

The new financial aid will be granted under specific conditions regarding the resources and incomes of the student when he/she is not anymore dependent as a part of the parent’s household. The aim is to provide an answer to financial challenges of middle class students, who are largely abandoned by the current system.

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