STRASBOURG, France – Marching in solidarity with 60,000 students across France, as many as 2,000 Strasbourg students were tear-gassed by riot police Thursday, as they tried to enter the Palais Universitaire to protest the government’s move toward a more privatized post-secondary education system.
The students joined professors – some of whom have been on strike for nearly two weeks – as they tried to disrupt Education Minister Valérie Pécresse’s visit to inaugurate the joining of the three facultés into one university.
The lockdown of one of the University of Strasbourg’s main buildings – which was eventually closed even to guests with invitations – was part of a series of measures to counter students’ support of a general strike which is gaining momentum in France.
While the students voted in general assemblies to protest the reforms, they thought the measures used by the police were unreasonable.
“The protesters were calm, but the police decided to react in a slightly violent manner,” said Ornella on French, a languages student at the University.
She was tear-gassed, and didn’t want to give her last name.
“Both sides were resisting and eventually the police threw tear gas, but the second time it was unwarranted.”
Ornella was also disappointed that the Minister seemed to ignore the protesters and their demands.
“It was frustrating; the Minister was inside, and it was as if they didn’t hear us,” she said.
The government intends to increase privatization and corporatization of research and administration of the universities – but the protesters claim this would mean universities would be run with short-term goals, rather than educational institutions with long-term vision.
The new policy would also curb researchers’ independence because projects would be driven more by government bureaucracies than by academic interest.
All of the complaints were combined into “L’appel de Strasbourg,” a petition signed by 32 faculty members. Some of the members at the inauguration ceremony tried, but failed, to present to the education minister.
Students in Strasbourg will vote Monday in a general assembly on what to do next, although a protest has already been scheduled for Tuesday. But given the divide between the government and the protesters, Ornella thinks protests will only grow.
“This is part of a growing movement in France in about every sector. This is just the beginning,” she said.
–With files from Nicholas Smith