Économie et Statistique n° 433-434 - 2010 Unequal Access to Higher Education - Employment and Wages of Immigrants' Children - Place of residence and Wage Discrimination - Does the CPI reflect Changes in th Cost of Living in France?
Unequal Access to Higher Education: The Role of Streaming and Specialization. A Comparison between western Germany and France
The expansion of higher education across western Europe in the past fifty years or so has been accompanied by a diversification of the streams and specializations offered to secondary-school leavers. While increased access to higher education has reduced social inequality, diversification, in contrast, may produce the opposite effect by promoting a certain degree of social reproduction. We compare France and Germany (within the boundaries of former West Germany) in terms of social inequality of access to higher education. Educational institutions seem more diversified and hierarchically structured in France. This is notably due to a specific feature of French higher education: the grandes écoles, which base their intake on highly selective admission tests. Social inequality plays a greater role before the final secondary-school exam in Germany than it does in France. The massive increase in access to the French baccalauréat tends to shift the influence of social origins towards the stage where students are actually streamed into higher-education institutions and specializations. The existence of the grandes écoles is a decisive factor at that stage. By contrast, there is no clear social ranking of specializations in France. In Germany, instead, social origin seems to play a greater role in the choice of specialization, bearing in mind that German higher education is less hierarchical than its French counterpart. However, social selection remains a determinant of the choice between higher education and vocational training in Germany. The opposition between vertical and horizontal dimensions of choices-often cited by sociologists-proves to be of uneven relevance in France and Germany. It is determined by the organizational characteristics of the two education systems.