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French Students Get Chance to Attend International University of Political Studies

In France after two weeks of nightly unrest, the government is considering stronger law enforcement measures to prevent future violence such as deporting non-citizens involved in the riots. But advocates for immigrant groups say the government must also address the root causes of violence: the cycle of poverty and sense of hopeless in the immigrant communities. VOA's Brian Padden reports on one program already in place in France that is intended to bring young people into the mainstream of society.

At the local school in the city of Brétigny-sur-Orge, just south of Paris, security guards now walk the grounds at night to prevent further violence.

Municipal council member Gustav Steevy says while it seems the riots have subsided here, they are not taking any chances.

"Two kids were expelled. We come here because there is a rumor that they will come here and burn their school."

In the past weeks rioters have attacked several local schools, attempting to destroy one of the few avenues intended to help people overcome the limits imposed by economical and social conditions.

The French educational system has been accused of institutionalizing segregation because it forces students to pursue even university level education in the neighborhoods in which they live.

But since the year 2000 a new program is allowing minority students at schools like Auguste Blanqui high school in Saint-Ouen to compete for entry into the prestigious International University of Political Studies known as " Sciences-Pô."

Auguste Blanqui high school principal Henri Théodet says the program does not solve society's problems but it does give people hope. "Fighting unemployment is not the objective of this program. But this is the way to make the social elevator work for the whole of society."

Minority students now attending Sciences-Pô, such as Tarik Yildiz, say despite the opportunity, they still had to work hard to meet academic standards.

"I am very grateful to Sciences-Pô but this is not a handout. I got here on my own merit. Science Pô is not practicing positive discrimination or quotas. I'm lucky that Science Pô reached out but I got here on my own."

Perhaps in response to the riots, other universities are now looking into creating more opportunities for minorities. Cyril Delhay, who is in charge of the program to integrate students from underprivileged neighborhoods at Sciences-Pô, says embracing diversity is the key to future of France.

"Diversity is a positive factor for growth and development. It provides the means for the future politically and economically. Right now people perceive diversity as an identity crisis and a source of suffering, insecurity and unemployment. But if schools and companies can act on this, it can be a way to grow. And instead of having a cake cut into smaller pieces, you can actually have a bigger cake and more people at the table."

France has leaned the cost of denying some people places at the table.