The Savary Law on Higher Education and the failure to reform France's universities, 1789-1984

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Department of History - Simon Fraser University

Widespread dissatisfaction with previous conservative administrations swept the Socialists into power in 1981. President François Mitterrand’s “ten proposals for education” promised social mobility. France’s underfunded and centralized universities stagnated. Standardization fostered patronage networks, hindered research and thwarted the establishment of self-governing universities. Alain Savary, minister of National Education, would redraft the 1968 Faure Law on higher education to stimulate socioeconomic development. Economic stagnation, a population boom, and graduate underemployment indicated the need for reform. In 1983, Savary aimed to grant the universities autonomy and wider access to resources, democratize their administration, and make higher education market-relevant. He promised to improve linkages between grandes écoles and universities. Academics, students, and politicians campaigned ardently against Savary’s bill. Under presidential pressure, Savary compromised. Savary’s law was the last completely redrafted law on higher education. Under later Socialist governments, it provided the framework for regulations and laws creating self-regulating yet undemocratic universities of today.

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