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Equality of Opportunities: France's recent educational reform and the backlash against it

One of our French traditions, at least for the left, is demonstrating contempt or support for a law, legislature or government. Some carry messages of tolerance and acceptance, such as those who were in favour of the same-sex marriage law; while others convey despise and conservatism, such as La Manif pour Tous (Demonstrations for All), who campaigned against same-sex marriage.

Having lived in Asia for a few years, where I think I have, in totality, seen no more than five demonstrations (including Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement), I realised that whenever a change is proposed by either side of France’s Parliament, protests always follow.

Demonstrations here have a colourful aspect: red flags and yellow safety jackets are worn everywhere, accompanied with large banners and the sound of firecrackers and speakers, in a mist of burning tires and tear gas. These protests are such an important part of the French people's political involvement that it has actually been enshrined as a Constitutional principle since the Fourth Republic.

The Loi Vidal, from the name of the Minister of Higher Education, also called Loi ORE (Orientation et Réussite des Etudiants – Guidance and Success of Students) certainly does not constitute an exception to the rule. Since its introduction before Parliament earlier this year, this law has created great division in France, but it seems that the government plans to hang tight and proceed with its implementation.

Caption: "Loi Vidal, social selection"

An overview of the French tertiary education system

In France, tertiary (higher) education is separated into two kinds, selective and non-selective. While the former involves a (usually highly) competitive entrance exam and limits access to preparatory classes and private universities (e.g. HEC, Sciences Po, etc.); the latter is strictly barred from using any academic criterion to select candidates. France is one of the only European countries to have such a law under the principle of equality of opportunity, and to uphold it so strongly, through the jurisprudence of the Council of State (the supreme administrative court).

However, and this is a fact everyone must agree upon: there is a disproportionately larger number of applicants compared to the number of places available at universities. So how does this affect candidates? Until this year (the system was slightly modified in 2018), the French equivalent of UCAS, APB (Admission Post-Bac) consisted of the following elements:

12 organised wishes. Each student could ask for 12 tertiary education formations, ranking the choices from 1 (most favourite) to 12 (least favourite). • Academies. These are Ministry of Education bodies in charge of geographical division, following the structures of the regions. Under the current system, students live or study in the academy of the university they have applied to. (crazy right?)Order of your choices. If you confirm that a university is your first choice, then you are more likely to be accepted than a similar candidate who placed it as their second choice.

As per the law, the platform does not ask you for your grades, transcripts or recommendations (unless you add selective universities in your list).

For universities in Paris, where the number of applicants exceeded the number of seats available, a lottery was put in place. (yeah, you read that correctly, a lottery could decide your future.)

What the current system entails

Having studied abroad, the question of the academy was not an issue f