But students still campaigning for socially-oriented economics education
By Charles Hanks, Collaborator in the Social Economy in Higher Education project
The prospects of the social and solidarity economy in France were strengthened last month with the passing of a law that gives financial and political backing to the sector. Since his election in 2012, the country’s socialist President, Francois Hollande, has made such promotion of social enterprise a priority, beginning with the creation of the post of social and solidarity economy minister, until recently held by Benoit Hamon.
Hamon was the man charged with drawing up the new law, unanimously supported by the political left, with those on the right voting against it or abstaining. The law describes the social economy, made up of over 200,000 enterprises and responsible for 10% of the country’s GDP, as a “stable and resilient” business model and is mainly concerned with providing more reliable and greater funding, from both public and private sources. Covering what it sees as traditional forms of social enterprise – mutuals, cooperatives, other workers’ associations – as well as what are described as “new forms”, the law is composed of five key objectives:
1. To recognise the social and solidarity economy as a specific means of business, defining it specifically and legally and establishing a “legal base” for funding specifically targeted towards the sector. The text also makes reference to granting greater importance to social innovation rather than focusing solely on technological innovation.
2. To consolidate the sector’s network, governance and financing, including the creation of “good practice” guidelines.
3. To empower workers to act, including providing them with training in how to carry out a recovery takeover. Organisations will be obliged to inform workers of closure with at least two months’ notice and to try to find a takeover.
4. To prompt cooperative “impact”, essentially with a reinforcement of original cooperative principles in the governance of such organisations.
5. To reinforce the politics of local, sustainable development. The uniquely French PTCEs (Regional economic cooperation hubs) are groups of actors within the local economy working together and the law will encourage their development and give them official recognition in order to guarantee immovable jobs.
On this last point, the government accepts that it is playing catch-up, admitting that local economies have a 20-year head start on the state when it comes to the social economy and it recognises the importance of this experience.
The law makes no mention, however, of combining this backing of the sector with the introduction of more socially-oriented economics education. French pressure group PEPS-Économie (‘For pluralism in economics in higher education’) forms part of an international student campaign (http://www.isipe.net/) to provide a less homogenous approach to economics in higher education, particularly at undergraduate level. PEPS-Éco challenge the lack of “reflexive” teaching that would present students with a broader economic picture and they bemoan the fact that those in charge of the current model are the only ones satisfied with it. AFEP, an association of teachers and researchers, is also calling for more pluralism and even the introduction of new “Economics and society” discipline. It remains to be seen how the recent government steps will affect these appeals for a makeover of practices in higher education.