In this episode of Witness, Valérie Gauriat sheds light on the impact soaring food prices and energy bills are having on France's student population.
20% of students in France live below the poverty line. Rising food prices and energy bills soaring are exacerbating their situation. And yet, France gives more financial aid to students than many other European countries.
Our reporter Valérie Gauriat met some students who are struggling to make ends meet, as well as the associations that are supporting them around the country.
From COVID to the energy crisis
The eyes of Baptiste and Mustafa light up at the sight of the kiwis in their shopping bag. "Kiwis are a luxury", Baptiste explains. They are two of a thousand students who took part in the food distribution organised in Paris by Cop1, a student association that was created during the COVID 19 pandemic to support students in need.
JR A’Weng, the general manager of Cop1, says he didn’t think that they would organise food distributions after the COVID lockdowns. But with the inflation hike, “it’s more and more difficult for students to cope, and there is real poverty".
A higher risk of failure
Elodie failed her exams twice in Lyon during COVID lockdowns so she lost her grant. She started a new life in Rennes, in the northwest of France. She spent a month in her car before she could find student accommodation.
Suffering from several disabilities, her medical expenses – only partly covered by social health insurance – eat into her small budget. Her situation impacts her studies.
In Lyon, France's third largest city in the southeast, and one of the country's most expensive, the federation of students associations, Gaelis, manages a so-called solidarity store where students can buy goods at 10% of the market price.
Its President, Laure Morin, explains: "The lack of financial security that we can see amongst students is a huge mental burden for them. Students are forced to work. And if students work for more than 12 hours alongside their studies, they are three times more likely to fail."
The government has recently allocated 10 millions euros to support the associations that organise food distributions for students. A consultation between the governement and student unions on the reform of the student grant system is ongoing, but concrete change is not expected anytime soon.