France faces a severe shortage of key professionals in a few years unless thousands more lycee pupils qualify for university places, schools minister Xavier Darcos warned last week.
Speaking before the start of this year's baccalaureat exams yesterday, Mr Darcos said there was a desperate need for more youngsters to take the "general" bac. This is the most academic version of the exam, which pupils must take to get access to higher education. Those who pass it must ultimately replace the thousands of teachers, managers, engineers and other professionals due to retire in the next five or 10 years The bac is a school-leaving diploma, typically taken at 18 and consisting of at least seven compulsory and optional exams. This year 629,000 candidates are taking over 4,000 subjects. Just over half of will take the general bac, choosing between science, literature or social sciences. Nearly a third will do a specialised technology bac, while a fifth have chosen one of 50 work-related options of the bac professionnel, including aeronautics, catering, and secretarial work.
Mr Darcos's warning echoed a report published in April which said France needs thousands more school-leavers every year to qualify for university if the needs of higher education and the job market were to be met.
The report, by Nicole Belloubet-Frier, chief education officer of Toulouse, estimated there was an annual shortfall of at least 10,000 bac-holders. It found more students were opting for vocational courses instead of the general bac. Only 32 per cent of school-leavers now get a pass in the general bac, compared with 37 per cent in 1995.
Worse, so far as the needs of industry are concerned, the sharpest decline has been in pupils taking a scientific general bac.