Why students occupy Lyon universities

Published: 2018/05/31

Revolutionary Spirit at Lumière University Lyon 2

Students have occupied the campus of the University Lyon-2 since April 2018, protesting against an academic reform that will drastically change the University admission system. The protesters only represent a small percentage of students, but block the university for everybody.



Since the beginning of April 2018, students in many French cities have been protesting against the Loi ORE (Orientation et Réussite des Etudiants; « student orientation and success », also called « Loi Vidal » after its creator, the national Minister of Higher Education Frédérique Vidal).

This academic reform was recently proposed by the current prime minister Édouard Philippe and accepted by Parliament in February 2018.

A reform that introduces selection at French universities

French higher education consists mostly of two institutions: Grandes Écoles and universities.

While the Grandes Écoles are highly selective and prestigious and have an extremely high reputation in French business world and society, the universities have a tradition of being open for everybody.


With the new law, this is going to change. Candidates will be not be automatically admitted to university, but instead be selected by the university’s administration based on their grades and experience; additional criteria like personal interviews or admission tests may also apply.

According to the government, this change is made necessary by the high dropout rates. Of all students who start their first year, only about one in two finishes the degree. The others abandon or start over in a different field. (Read here for details)

Students occupied campuses all over the country

This fundamental change to the university admission system has received harsh criticism. Students all over the country occupied their campuses for weeks, and even university officials and teachers spoke up against the reform.

To this day, the University Lumière Lyon 2 is occupied by student protesters – which even led to confrontations with the police.


The student protesters do have a number of valid arguments

Among others, they attribute a higher value than the government to the liberty of admission and feel that the loss of public money due to lost school years is not a sufficiently important issue to justify taking away this traditional liberty.

A second argument is that with the reform it is for the university to decide whether a student is apt for a study course or not, while in the current situation it is the student who chooses his/her study course, regardless of his grades.

It certainly is believable that a bad math pupil can be a great math student, and with the new system it will be much harder for bad math pupils to try their luck.

Escalated conflict between protesters and Lyon 2

Though the majority of the students at Lyon-2 never participated in the protests, they are the victims of an escalated conflict between the student protesters on the one side and the University and the government on the other side.

Paul-Henry and Honor are two of the students who belong to the majority. They are waiting for their exams and fear that they will not be able to validate their semesters.

Honor, student at University Lyon-2

Honor, student at University Lyon-2

“We went to the General Assemblies in the beginning, many people did. We tried to discuss with the protesters: Conduct a representative online survey to find out what the students think. If a majority is for the occupation, go on. If not, then stop. But they didn’t,” Paul-Henry and Honor say.

University Lyon-2 criticizes the new law

In the beginning, the University was on the same side as the protesters. In fact, Nathalie Dompnier, the president of Lyon 2, has published a statement together with the presidents of five other French universities, criticizing this new law.

She apparently even came to the General Assemblies in order to get feedback from the student body and explain her position.

But in the course of the last weeks, the tone between the students and the administration has changed.

On April 30th, the University sent a newsletter to its students, explaining why the presidency is against this reform, and asking the students not to allow the protests to keep the university from following its duties of giving out diplomas and conducting research.

Students opinion about what’s going on at University Lyon-2

A new email from May 9th on the other hand condemns the protests as “unacceptable”: “The Loi ORE will not be abolished because protests take place on the campuses of Lyon 2 and we are prevented from working.”

“You either were with the protesters, or you were against them. For them, there was nothing in between. They called me a Fascist,” Paul-Henry describes the atmosphere at the General Assemblies.

“At a certain point they just wanted to graduate, without exams. That makes no sense.” According to him, discussion with the protesters was impossible.

Pedro, law student at Lyon-2, confirms this view on the situation.

“The protesters are the only party who seem to control things. They know very well that this law will not be changed or abolished, it has already been passed. At this point they are trying to invalidate the semester.”

“Their behavior is very egoistic,” says Pedro. “Without proper exams, the semester becomes worthless for everybody. Everybody loses.”

Luckily, the University has found a way to hold this semester’s exams. They take place at home, and apparently they are even designed in a way that Google won’t be much of a help.

Still, everybody is afraid that the show will just go on next semester.