24 May 2007

Varsity Blues

France's universities could be first test for Sarkozy. From Marco Chown Oved of the Associated Press, via the International Herald Tribune:

The Sorbonne, France's most renowned university, has no cafeteria, no student newspaper [and] no varsity sports. [....] It also costs next-to-nothing to attend, and admission is open to everyone who has finished high school. [....] The Sorbonne also has no alumni associations.

Well, jeez Louise! No varsity sports. Golly!

Who remembers that epiosde of The Simpsons when the owner of a Thai Restaurant hires Bart to distribute menus so that he can do more business, thereby preventing his daughter from having to attend one of those American universities where there are 'baseball caps everywhere' and 'serious students [are] powerless against drunken jock-ocracy'?

Seriously, why are North Americans so shocked to find out that, very often, the rest of the world does things differently? I mean, the Sorbonne was founded in 1257, centuries before European North America came into being. If I were to embark on a study of French universities I would have been more surprised to find that they had taken up the American model. After all, having grown up in the Canadian Midwest, just 100km north of the American border, and now living in the world's second-largest French speaking city (with a huge French expat community), a mere 70km from the American border, I can tell you that even though the article states that 'only 14.2% of adults have a university education in France, compared with 29,4% in the United States', you'd never know it. For all of their supposed education, your average American cannot come close to your average French (or indeed European) person when it comes to possessing a culture générale, the kind of UNIversal, all-round general knowledge in the areas of arts, science and culture (to say nothing of basic world geography) to which any civilised person can reasonably aspire and that a UNIversity education is supposed to provide. In North Dakota, a border state, they actually ask you with a straight face in what American state Canada is located in.

It should also be noted that the baccalauréat, the French secondary school leaving exam, is much more difficult and comprehensive than anything an average North American public school is likely to challenge you with, and could easily be placed on a par with first or second year exams in most of North America's universities. Indeed, the most prestigious high school programme in which one can be enrolled in North America and in much of the world is called the International Baccalaureate and is directly modelled upon the French baccalauréat.

I will however conceed that there should at least be some tuition fee for attending French universities and that way too many resources are allocated to the network of Grandes Écoles (the Ivy League of France if you will) while the universities are left to cope with too many students and not enough funding. At the same time, if you possess the intelligence to succeed at university but can't afford the tuition, then that's a problem too.

What I'm basically saying is that the French aren't as fat as Americans, so they don't need varsity sports. They have their own traditions and, to a certain extent, they should just continue to go their own way.