Wanted: a place for study and sex

Student unions in France are demanding more campus housing

Determined to see a large chunk of the new money being splashed around by French President Nicolas Sarkozy go to student housing, one of the country’s largest student unions, UNEF, launched a daring media campaign. The posters showed two nude students making love in the middle of a bed shared by a sleeping mom and dad. It attracted attention from across Europe, with Germany’s Der Spiegel’s story titled “Voulez-vous couchez avec mes parents?” The message was clear: a chronic shortage of campus accommodation means that many students have to live at home and attend local universities.

Last July, Sarkozy’s government admitted that French universities are slipping in international rankings, campuses are decaying and an ossified government bureaucracy has stifled innovation to the extent that campus libraries aren’t open evenings. In addition to increasing spending by $7.5 billion by 2012, Sarkozy wants to overhaul the whole system. But much of the students’ attention has been focused on the housing issue.

According to UNEF, in 1960, half of all students had academic living quarters; now the percentage is just seven per cent, as 2.2 million students vie for 156,000 rooms. Two weeks ago, French Higher Education Minister Valerie Pécresse announced $930 million to provide 5,000 new rooms by 2012, plus the renovation of 28,000 existing rooms. To ease some immediate pressures, Pécresse agreed to “intergenerational housing” that matches up students with senior citizens who have spare rooms. Student leaders, however, are concerned that the measures aren’t enough, especially since Sarkozy wants half of France’s youth to earn a university degree. So UNEF might have to dream up another cheeky poster.