Half a century has passed since the student revolt of May 1968 and it has to be said that higher education in France has since been democratized, there being more than 2.5 million students in 2016, as against some 500,000 at the time. But has that democratization been accompanied by efficiency (in terms of employment, excellence — including in research — adaptation to technological and scientific change and globalization, etc.)? Among other things, recent difficulties encountered by the higher-education student recruitment system, sustained international competition between educational institutions, the existence of disciplinary silos and the administrative complexity of the institutions concerned, despite regular attempts at reform, give grounds for doubt. It is for this reason that Futuribles has chosen to devote a dossier in this issue to the subject of higher education, a dossier to which Jean-François Cervel makes the opening contribution with an examination of the French model.
After analysing the way the system operates (it has evolved relatively little over time and favours France’s Grandes Écoles over universities in the classic sense of the term), Jean-François Cervel stresses its limitations in the current context of mass higher education and internationalized teaching. He outlines the developments there have been in the last decade and a half, and the efforts made, mainly by the universities, to keep abreast of these and invest in areas of future potential. Things are changing, but there is still much to do. Hence the importance, which Cervel stresses here, of rethinking the system and adapting its purposes and goals to the world of the future, which requires, among other things, a degree of administrative simplification and consolidation of structures. The proposals formulated by Jean-François Cervel are intended to make a contribution to current government thinking aimed at reforming higher education and research in France and at reviving the country’s competitiveness.