a chaotic back to school for students at La Sorbonne Nouvelle

After a two-year delay, the Sorbonne Nouvelle University is finally back in brand new premises in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. However, about thirty classrooms are missing to accommodate 16,500 students.

With its white facade with wavy lines pierced by trapezoidal windows, it is a building that will not go unnoticed in the Nation district (12th arrondissement).e). The new campus of the Sorbonne Nouvelle University, designed by Christian de Portzamparc, the first Frenchman to win the Pritzker Prize (equivalent to the Nobel Prize for architecture) in 1994, has everything on paper to seduce. Inside triplex library with 1100 seats, theater, cinema. But also three amphitheatres, 146 classrooms, two sports halls, a vast university restaurant… A project worth around 150 million euros intended for the students of Paris 3, who were forced to move from their historic site Censier, outdated and containing asbestos.

“It’s very nice, throw it”praises Marina, 18, who first discovered these premises handed over last February. However, the student enrolled in the first year of literature says she is disillusioned. “I was supposed to continue yesterday, but two weeks ago we learned that the start of the school year was moved to October 3rd. Because of organizational problems, I believe. I’m a little worried and I’m waiting to see how it turns out.”

Because despite the size of the building, 35,000 m2 including 25,000 m2 of usable area, the Sorbonne Nouvelle University is currently unable to accommodate its 16,500 students. Because of the lack of space, according to Emma Rubio-Milet, a Spanish teacher who followed the construction project from the beginning. “There are 30 classes missing. The university seems to have realized this in June as we have been saying this for over 8 years since we saw the first architect’s plans.’ In 2016, CHSCT members (health, safety and working conditions committee) the university entrusted the company with carrying out the expertise. “He showed that we would definitely have problems with space, but the former university presidency team did not take into account the recommendations”. continues Evelyne Payen-Variéras, English teacher and elected CGT board member.

To overcome these difficulties, the university had to find 12 additional classrooms to rent this summer: in La Défense or in high schools in the south of Paris. Review new plans quickly. But also set up distance learning courses for so-called “cross-cutting” classes.

Temporary measures according to Jamil University President Jean-Marc Dakhlia. “Each academic year is a challenge in itself. There is also the takeover of completely different spaces. It takes time to get used to it.” If he acknowledges the lack of rooms capable of accommodating groups of around forty students, for Jamil Jean-Marc Dakhlia it is primarily a matter of organization. “We cannot count only on the number of rooms. There are also specialized rooms that have to be included in the calculations, which are art practice rooms or computer rooms that we didn’t have before, or not in these proportions. And this completely changes the way the spaces are used, because these are rooms that can be shared at certain times. It’s like we completely changed the software.”

This summer, the university’s president asked teachers to revamp their schedules, which he said had come too late, by extending their time slots to optimize space. Impossible for Evelyne Payen-Variéras, lecturer.

In English we used to have 13 rooms. Today we have eight of them. To say it’s a matter of planning is an understatement. It doesn’t fit and all slots are already occupied.

Evelyne Payen-Variéras, lecturer

Especially because not all spaces are currently accessible, such as the cinema or two amphitheatres, the largest of which has 500 seats. And that more serious problems appeared last week, during the students’ admission meeting. A several-kilogram element from the wooden ledge broke off and grazed the student. Incident “unacceptable and outrageous” for the university president, who asked the ministry if legal action could be taken against the construction company.

A chaotic return to school that has something to anger the already tense staff. This Tuesday afternoon, around fifty members of the university and students met in a general meeting to list all the difficulties they have encountered and the working conditions that they believe have been degraded for several years. Two motions were adopted. One asking for a return to a calmer climate with the university presidency. The second end of the distance learning courses established in September.

“We already saw during Covid that distance led to a real social breakdown with the absence of contact with teachers, other students. That it also leads to problems in terms of access to the digital. In the case of a health crisis, this is understandable, but today it is not, no because of the spaces that were undersized”, believes Paul Malherbe, president of Unef of the Sorbonne Nouvelle. The union is also calling for additional classrooms to be sought in the neighborhood to allow students to eat lunch on site and have access to its state-of-the-art facilities.

For its part, the presidency of the university decided to set up a working group to analyze the actual room occupancy. It also commissioned an external service provider to analyze the occupancy of the premises and develop recommendations.

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