Written by Amaryllis Perotti.
Edited by Paisley Regester.
‘It is not easy to be twenty in 2020.’ Those are the words President Emmanuel Macron used to describe the unbelievable situation that students are currently facing. The struggles faced by students in France during the pandemic are representative of the societal problem faced by many countries: future generations are being forgotten. French university students have initiated a public debate to discuss how the COVID-19 measures taken by governments are a way of telling the younger generations that they are not important. Consequences of COVID-19 are indeed numerous and difficult to quantify. Some numbers, however, speak louder than others. A France Inter study highlighted that 80% of French students describe themselves as disadvantaged by the pandemic restrictions. One in six university students stopped their studies due to diverse reasons ranging from an inability to pay tuition fees, to an inability to catch up with online teaching. More than 21% of students are newly unemployed, driving many into precarious financial situations.
Additionally, Les Echos notes in a recent study that the average income of French citizens decreased by up to 5%, while the average income of students lowered by up to 10%. L’Etudiant notes that students have lost, on average, €274 a month. Most establishments such as hotels and restaurants closed, and the ability to find a student job has become a luxury. By extension, networking events and internships have been compromised, further impacting their future prospectives. Iona and Jean, two university students, spoke out on France’s most-watched TV channel and highlighted that most debates regarding the pandemic focus on economic problems, when they should at least mention the social issues.
Depression and suicide cases among university students have risen due to the lack of social interactions, financial and social precarity, as well as the lack of career possibilities. Olivier Véran, French Minister of Health, has already dedicated several discourses to the higher rate of depression in France, and Fabrice Di Vizio, a legal attorney and epidemics specialist, argued on French national television that COVID-19 measures will lead to a social catastrophe. He notes that the French government is responsible for the dissemination of fear within the population through the constant unreliable communication about the pandemic case numbers and deaths. Debate about the legitimacy of some measures – such as the curfew – became difficult, and some social groups such as students followed the lead of their government, thinking this would eventually be the solution.
Di Vizio also emphasizes the lack of logic in governmental action, as well as the impact this had on the student situation. He argued that the government must admit their inability to counter this crisis, specifically when it comes to limiting the negative consequences of restrictions. For example, governmental financial aids are inefficient, especially regarding student precarity, and solidarity supply networks have become a necessity. A recent study at Rennes University showed that 14% of students were not able to provide themselves with food. An anonymous student interviewed in a CNews report mentioned that solidarity networks are doing the government’s jobs. A lot of the debate surrounding this situation regards the fact that students are a low-risk group – The French Statistics Institute highlights that individuals aged from 20 to 25 represent less than 5% of COVID cases requiring a hospitalization – and that drastic measures have been taken at a national scale, without any attention to their specific situation. Have students been protected by governments throughout this pandemic, or have governments forgotten students? Has the wellbeing of students been sacrificed through irresponsible decisions and governmental institutions detached from reality? Western governments have taken drastic measures to control and counter COVID-19 spread. However, measures should be questioned to some extent in order to highlight the potentially negative consequences of the restrictions, and more specifically, the impact it might have on the country’s future. The French case questions and initiates a societal debate that can be useful in these difficult times.