Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 8. 1964.
Life At A French Varsity — ...Salient Exclusive
Life At A French Varsity
Fifty Thousand New Zealand students might imagine that life at a university in the South of France would be full of song and laughter, of lightheartedness and libertine living, of free love and frantic parties—a life representing all that is held typical of the gay French spirit of "laissez-faire" and "joie de vivre"—well, they would be wrong, very wrong.
For Life at the University of Aix-en-Provence is not like that at all. Generally speaking, students are more serious than in New Zealand—certainly they are less prone to organise processions, do crazy stunts or dig up cricket pitches. An Extravaganza would be out of the question. For the 12,000 students there is no student union of any description, no Common Rooms or gymnasium, and not even a student newspaper. An estimated five per cent of all students participate in any sport, and only a handful of clubs exist.
But this Is not to say students here spend all their time working. Numerous sidewalk cafes provide popular and populated meeting places for the socially inclined, and aspiring Peter Blizards or Bill Dwyers attach themselves to some of the very active political groups. Debating seems to be completely foreign to the French temperament, nor is drama very active, but cinema groups, choirs, ski-ing, religious and international clubs are well supported. Particularly successful in Aix is a Bi-Lingual Club (English-French) which is very popular among French students studying English and the English-speaking foreign students. Recently the French members of the club carried off a very impressive performance of Richard the III, all in English.
The Students themselves are an interesting lot. Most of them dress well by New Zealand standards, ties for the boys and heels for the girls being the order of the day. The unwashed, longhaired student easily found on New Zealand campuses Is not to be seen In France. Many of the boys wear suits every day and girls are always fashionably dressed and well-groomed. The French girl is on the whole, more attractive and more feminine than her Kiwi counterpart. Not because she is better endowed physically but rather because she knows what to do with it. The boys are correspondingly more sexually orientated and comments on them from foreign girls here vary from "They make you much more aware of the fact that you're a woman," to "There's only one question with them—to bed or not to bed."
A marked difference in the relations between students Is that jokes and expressions which, if translated, would be "men only' in New Zealand are exchanged freely and frequently between the sexes. And, of course, all students follow the great French tradition and embrace naturally, unselfconsciously and at great length in streets, cafes, restaurants, and even the university library.
Perhaps because of the later age at which French students enter university, or maybe for some other sociological reason, there are a large number of student marriages. It is very common to see young couples bringing their babies into the student restaurant through the special entrance for married students, and handing the little one morsels of suitable food as they eat themselves.
Students have a higher social status than in New Zealand. The Government provides excellent restaurants for all universities; students can eat full course meals for a subsidised price of 2/- (students who fail all their subjects in one year have to pay 4/-) and the restaurants are open for the mid-day and evening meal seven days a week. You can even take bread away from the restaurants for the next morning's breakfast.
Modern Halls of Residence are built for each university where students can lodge in comfortable conditions for £4/10/- a month. But there are never enough rooms for all the students and more than half have to find private board or live at home. Bearers of student cards also benefit from cut rates on most public transport and a special concession at many cinemas.
And student politics? These are taken very seriously and are conducted on a nation-wide scale with varying degrees of intensity at each university. The Issues involved, and the history of student politics, are too involved to give anything like a comprehensive account, but here is a brief description of the set-up as given me by a disinterested French student.
On one side there is UNEF (Union National des Etudiants Francais) which is left-wing, nation-wide and supposedly sponsored by the Communist Party. It does a lot of agitating on behalf of students, and purports to represent the students of France and to have no political affiliations. Each university has a branch of this union, stronger in some parts than in others, and each branch behaves as if it represented all the students of the university. A recent survey showed that only six per cent of students at one university were, in fact, members of UNEF but the union carried on regardless. During the Algerian war UNEF took the side of the Algerians, claiming to be speaking with the voice of all the students in France.
As a measure against UNEF, another union was created, supposedly non-political, also to represent students. This union, FEN (Federation des Etudiants Nationalists). is more to the right and exists alongside UNEF in many universities. In Aix this co-existence is not peaceful and the two unions often come to physical blows over the distribution of propaganda, etc.
To administer relations between students and lecturers the students of each faculty elect a Faculty Board which concerns itself only with negotiations with the staff concerning exams, courses, etc.. and is not political at all.
In our own simple way and sometimes stumbling French. Bill Manson and I have often complained to French students about the bomb tests in the Pacific. The reply has usually been one of surprise that France was going to do such a thing. When we insist that we have the only unsullied spot of territory in the world and that there's an agreement to stop nuclear testing anyway. We are told that there's not much French students can do about it and we had better go and see De Gaulle. In France the students are too worried about their own internal political struggles to pay much attention to overseas problems, but Bill and I shall keep on trying.
Chastity Is No More A Virtue Than Malnutrition—Alex Comfort