The pariahs of the French universities

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22cnd of February, the second semester has just started. This means hard work for the students till June, and a more terrific period for the teachers by the end of the same month when the marked copies have to be computerized to appear on the university website. I do not know much about my colleagues except for the fact that the French ones just like me studied English at university. Of my boss, I do not know much either except for her name and email address. I was contacted on the phone less than a week before starting the teaching job. It’s nice to be hired without going through any interview. It seems that at this stage, in the academic world there is no racism or discrimination. At least, this is what I would like to believe.

But let’s come back to the point: the academic world and my first week at work in this University with good reputation.  The contract I am working on is called “vacataire” in other words I am a part time temporary lecturer. This also means that I have a short term contract and that I will receive my first payment six months after having started the job.  Because at the age of 37 I am still living in the family apartment this system of payment does not disturb me that much. Being also streetwise I know how to get the money to survive in the French capital. This is maybe one of the first things you learn when growing up in the blocks of the 19th district of Paris. A day before giving my first lesson in a University I will not name by pure respect, I am told about the different chapters of the book the students will have to study. Because I am not an expert in economy the last night is also spent discovering a subject of which I know very little not to say nothing. In less than 12 hours time I will however have to pretend I am the expert every single student on earth would like to learn from when it comes to studying economy in the English speaking world. As, you may know by now, being a temporary part time lecturer in France requires some good acting skills. To be confident enough, I just tell myself that I have got the required skills.

The few teachers I had the chance to talk with, and who happened to be working on the same contract as I am working on, were all foreigners for whom teaching was just a second job. This fact also puts some doubts on my first statement concerning the absence of discrimination in the French academic world. The conditions to be able to teach few hours in the French universities are very strict. Those over 28 must have a first employer and work full time or something near full time, depending on the job they occupy.

The salary after tax is something around 33 Euros per hour. Under such contract, the number of hours a teacher can teach during an academic year is also limited. For the cunning ones the technique is easy though. To be able to get such contracts and work unlimited hours, they all register as independent workers. It is in fact difficult to explain that unless you are self employed you can only teach in France as a part time temporary lecturer if you already have a first job. This goes straight in line with what president Sarkozy calls work more to earn more. I have been registered as a sole company for more than two years now but never really started my business. Most people in the academic world know about these realties, but everyone keeps it quiet.

The teachers like me working under such precarious contracts are the pariahs of the profession; those never seriously taken into consideration in the different claims and discussions on the reforms of the French universities and the status of the teachers. Their careers as permanent lecturer or searchers are very often because of their standpoints or thesis subjects compromised in France. In such conditions the part time temporary lecturers may sometimes be tempted in a disarray to have just one objective: accumulating teaching hours; putting good teaching at stake for the sake of money.