AMONG the gilets jaunes on French streets recently were students protesting against the way the government is changing the university admission system from one that admits pretty much everybody to one in which there is a modicum of selectivity.

Objectors complain that the changes are inegalitarian. But figures from the OECD, a rich country club, shows that some of the most equal countries in Europe have the most selective systems, and vice versa.

FINLAND'S tertiary education system is one of the most selective in Europe. Only a third of those who apply get in.

Yet Finland also has one of the highest levels of intergenerational mobility in Europe, whether measure by educational outcomes or by difference between parents and children's social class.

Finland's tertiary education system enjoys an unusual degree of autonomy : most of its universities are independent of the state.

France's education system by contrast, has been run as an arm of the state since Napoleon decreed that it should be so in 1808, and it is one of Europe's least selective systems.

University entrance is regarded as a right, students can sign up for courses in subjects they know  nothing of.

Last year's reforms, which allow universities to require students to take remedial classes if deemed necessary, will make little difference to that.

Yet despite France's inclusive tertiary system, the country performs poorly in terms of  intergenerational mobility.Whether measured by educational outcomes or professional class.

That maybe partly because only 40% of the students in France graduate within the expected period for their course, which is wasteful of resources and rough on morale.

Dropping out rates tend to be higher among disadvantaged students.

Finland's approach to universities also pays off in terms of quality. It tops the Universitas 21 Index, which ranks 50 countries by quality of university, controlled for  GDP per head.

France comes in at 19, below Greece and China. [The World Students Society thanks The Economist].


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