France is one of the European countries where the youth unemployment rate has remained at a worrying level over the past thirty years. In general, the conditions for professional integration of the younger generations have gradually deteriorated. Among higher education graduates, access to permanent employment has become scarce and salary levels (excluding inflation) have stagnated. At the other end of the scale, those with few or no graduates have experienced major integration difficulties, with more periods of inactivity and unemployment.
It is thus a form of educational downgrading that we are witnessing: for the same diploma, the baccalaureate for example, we gain access much less frequently and quickly to a managerial position or intermediate professions. At the same time, with a long higher education cycle, access to a managerial position is no longer guaranteed. The French situation turns out to be worse than that of other countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States: young French people have a much higher level of qualification than the older generations – this gap is less clear in the Anglo-Saxon countries -, but they are unable to position themselves on the labor market compared to their elders, due to the segmentation of the labor market by age group. The new generation, over-educated, thus finds itself in fierce competition for favorable social positions in limited numbers.
To respond to this challenge, the public authorities strive to defend the necessary balance between training and employment: each training must prepare for a trade and each trade must correspond to a training. This adequationist aim is reflected in the implementation of public policies aimed at the “young” public: professionalization of initial training diplomas, development of youth contracts and apprenticeship … These policies are all based on the postulate that young people are insufficiently trained in relation to the labor market, mainly because they make supposedly irresponsible choices and the education players guide them in an unreasonable way. Thus, the solution to youth unemployment would be to massify “effectively”, namely to make studies an airlock for direct entry into the labor market. This postulate therefore avoids structurally rethinking social and employment policies which would allow young people to play a greater role in society and on the labor market.
Is this assumption only scientifically valid? In other words, can training transform a young person into a qualified professional? One would almost forget that for more than thirty years now, this training / employment relationship has been diagnosed as “untraceable” , that no training prepares perfectly for a profession, regardless of the level of qualification, and that France has this advantage. particularly, compared to other European countries , that it persists in believing in a form of training / employment match as in a magical thought.
This adequationist aim therefore has only marginal effects on the inclusion of the youngest in the labor market, because people already integrated into the labor market are, by definition, more in line with real professional practices. The irresponsibility of the public authorities is not only due to a lack of understanding of the direct consequences of the challenges of educational expansion. As we will see, it is also possible to promote massification without public spending following the same growth.
Massify without additional public expenditure
While public expenditure on education is growing steadily, excluding inflation, it has fallen over twenty years as a share of GDP (down 7.3% in 2000; 7.0% in 2010; 6.7% in 2018). Is this the sign of a demographic decline whereby the number of children in school has decreased? In reality, the number of students has even tended to increase: around 12.7 million primary and secondary students, stable between 2000 and 2018, but more than 500,000 additional higher education students on the same period. Growing student flows, declining funding: the scissors effect is necessarily felt on the quality of the education system. Thus, with the high birth rate in the 2000s, a large number of new pupils arrived in nursery school without mass recruitment of teachers. This is how theenrollment rate for 2-year-olds rose from 34% in 2000 to 11% in 2010 (and has not recovered since).
The latest example of a massification of the education system to the detriment of quality concerns higher education. The large generations, at elementary school in the 2000s, reached high school at the same time that the pass rate increased by a few points in the process, so that the number of applicants for higher studies has steadily increased. . With the number of students dropping from 2.32 million in 2010 to 2.68 million in 2018, spending per student decreased at the same time, from 11,910 euros to 11,470 euros (-3 , 7%), 2 so that the level of spending per student in France remains below the OECD average.
This reduction in expenditure is made possible by three mechanisms. First, the ministry has gradually and implicitly outsourced part of higher education to the private sector. If the latter occupied only 13.5% of students in 2001, this was the case for 18.6% of students in 2017 and even 20.6% of them in 2019. Private engineering schools thus welcomed 2.3 times more students in 2019 than in 2000, when all engineering training courses only saw their numbers increase by 1.8 times. The number of business school students has multiplied by 3.1 in just twenty years, rising to 199,000 students. As private higher education is only marginally subsidized, its development constitutes an opportunity for massification without public expenditure.
Second, the recent university massification has been accompanied by an increase in tuition fees in public higher education outside universities. Thus, highly autonomous public establishments (institutes of political studies) or not dependent on the Ministry of Higher Education (engineering schools) have increased their costs to a few thousand euros, sometimes with a modula policy. – tion of these costs according to social origin. The role of the public authorities has been decisive here: in return for stagnation, or even a fall in public spending, they have opted for a policy of “laissez faire” when large schools, including public ones, recently asked increase their tuition fees.
Thirdly, the establishment of Post-bac Admission (APB) and then Parcoursup provided an opportunity to gradually extend the scope of selection at the entrance to higher education. The right of access to higher education has thus gone from a pure guarantee (1990s) to a process of drawing lots in certain fields (APB) then to a right of appeal a posteriori to the rectorate for the student. · E without assignment (Parcoursup). If the existence of selection procedures does not necessarily transform into real selectivity, this development radically modifies the compromise of social justice. in terms of selection at entry into the French higher education system, namely that its selective character is traditionally compensated by a “pocket” of non-selectivity in university licenses.
Slow and very insidious, these three mechanisms gradually change the experience of studies; they accentuate the financial dependence of students on their families, even though the benefits in terms of professional integration become more uncertain (see previous section). It is with this analysis in mind that the next section should be read. It shows a relative specificity of France in terms of the influence of diplomas, namely the importance of the initial diploma and its consequences on social reproduction.
Segregative democratization and increasing intragenerational inequalities
Educational expansion does not systematically translate into more equal access to diplomas and knowledge. This reality has imposed itself in France under the expression of “segregative democratization” :
“Democratization”, in the sense of a massification of access to a level of studies; “Segregative” to indicate that the forms taken by this level are multiple and variously valued socially. To a quantitative evolution – always more pupils – is opposed a qualitative evolution – of the pupils in which fields? If the college level has massified in a relatively equalizing way (with the “single college”, even unfinished), the massification of the lycée constitutes the most explicit illustration of segregative democratization, with the development of technological and professional sectors including the educational and social legitimacy does not reach that of the general stream.
In higher education, this segregative phenomenon is amplified by the wide variety of training offered. As a result, social inequalities no longer play out on access – most of the general baccalaureate graduates go on to higher education – but rather on the distinctions between institutions (universities versus grandes écoles) and courses (sciences versus human sciences for example), given the social prestige and academic excellence of the training courses.
Social inequalities therefore have academic consequences. But, to understand the role played by massification in the reproduction of social inequalities, we must also look at the social effects of educational inequalities. In fact, the more the initial diploma determines access to social positions, the more the School favors the production of social inequalities: we then speak of school influence.or diplomas. From this point of view, France holds a particularly strong position: the initial diploma plays a preponderant role in the labor market, and the return to long-term training remains statistically very infrequent compared to other European countries. This hold of diplomas on individuals hardens school competition and strengthens socially marked family strategies to achieve better educational positions, legitimized after the fact by diplomas opening up to favorable social positions.
This tendency of modern societies to consider as fair and efficient access to social positions on the basis of diplomas has its downside: the intensification of school competition. In countries where the weight of the initial diploma is decisive, this drawback becomes critical. School expansion, which is not equalizing by nature, then accentuates the segregative nature of the system, by mobilizing families and young people around an overinvestment in school: private lessons, guidance coaching, competition between the public. and private, choice of extracurricular activities “paying” at school …
The fruit of a society where initial academic merit is king is not for all that a society of academic excellence. This hyper school competition does not necessarily produce very high school inequalities. On the other hand, it leads to very strong social inequalities, namely educational inequalities according to the social origin of the children. This is what the PISA results show, survey after survey. The Ministry of National Education thus emphasizesthat “the score gap between the best performing students and the poorest performing students remains stable between 2009 and 2018 while being significantly higher than the average in OECD countries. France is the OECD country whose performance is most strongly linked to the economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) of pupils ”.
In a French society where social inequalities at school are easily transformed into legitimate social inequalities, via the seal of the diploma, a form of social consensus nevertheless emerges to make the school the heart of the meritocratic ideal. And it is not lifelong training that gives individuals a second chance. Few adults return to long studies and continuing education has been on a downward trend for thirty years.the length of training and very strong inequalities depending on the level of studies and socio-professional category: on average, a non-graduate does 9 hours of training per year when a long-term higher education graduate in fact 26; Likewise, an employee follows 14 hours of training while an executive takes an average of 282 hours.
Author Bio: Nicolas Charles is a Sociologist at the University of Bordeaux