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French and Russian undergraduate student, trying my hand at the real world.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

French University

Hello chaps,

So I thought I would give you a bit of an insight to my student life here in Tours, as it is rather different from that in London. I am undertaking my Erasmus placement at the Universite de Francois-Rabelais (you will forgive my lack of French characters), which was founded in 1969 and is considered to have one of the better medical faculties in France. Certainly it is huge, but I am not a medic so cannot comment on the quality of teaching and research.

The main body of my studies take place in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, which is a rather unsightly labyrinthine building that could do with a serious facelift. If I am utterly honest. However, it does not serve us well to judge a book by its cover, and certainly the contents of the university are of considerably higher calibre.

I have a much fuller timetable here than in the UK, which suits me pretty well, as I do not do well when I have nothing to do. This is arguably why I write this blog - it stops me getting bored for one thing! The lectures are at rather odd times too, compared with in the UK, for example, my international law lecture lasts from 17-20h on a Monday. It's certainly a challenge for the attention span and requires lots of coffee.

The main difference is the lack of wider reading involved. The majority is completely based on what is given in the lecture, and nothing more. As a result, the majority of lectures last for two hours, with a break in the middle for the lecturer to fetch a cheeky coffee from the vending machine. You know you're in France when there is a coffee machine on every floor! By contrast, I would expect my lectures in the UK to just about cover the basics and to then go and spend a few hours in the library reading around the subject.

It is also the case that the majority of Tours students are from Tours itself, or the local surrounding area. France does not have the same university culture of going away to university to grow up and escape one's parents. As a result, there is a notable difference in the levels of discipline between French and English students here. For example, a lecturer had to remove a disruptive student from the class the other day - something that probably would not happen in the UK, not at UCL as far as I have come across, and is generally more reserved to high-school classes of bottom-set year eleven pupils. Moreover, I have witnessed more than my fair share of students backchatting the lecturers here - which I thought I had seen the last of in 2008, my final year of secondary school. Bit shocking, really.

It is probably not a shock then to hear about the high drop out rates at French universities. I last heard it was 80% of first year students, as a national average. Presumably because university here is much cheaper - £400 a year - and the differing methods of assessment out here. Needless to say, I prefer my lectures with second and third year students.

I do not, despite the tone of those last paragraphs, dislike French university. All things that are different are not always bad. I find the attitude that France has to postgraduate study much more palatable than that of the UK - ie, you don't need to remortgage your house just to afford to study for a year. They have two forms of Masters study over here - Professional and Research - which differs from the standard research and taught masters in the UK. I can only generalise when I say that a Master Professionel is more useful than a UK taught masters, but that is based on my rudimentary knowledge of the graduate jobs market these days. The lack of extortionate fees is almost definitely why Masters study is more common in Europe than in the UK, according to my European friends. The UK needs to up its game i

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