Students are being exploited for the benefit of schools’ image

This article is a sub-section of a large report on French video game studies published by the STJV. You will find the table of contents of this dossier, and links to all its parts, here : https://www.stjv.fr/en/2021/09/report-on-french-video-game-studies/

These poor studying conditions are made even more difficult to identify when schools actively fight against their disclosure, instead of fighting against the problems themselves, and try to cover up any issue. Even if this makes the situation worse for victims and leads them to drop out of their school. The articles on discrimination and harassment published in Libération and Gamekult illustrate well the attitude of schools when they are faced with such problems. Since the publication of these articles, internal reports from several schools indicate that educational departments have remained silent about their content. The publication of an article and our press release, mentioned in the introduction to this report, on the suicide of a student at LISAA, had already led to a suppression of speech in this school.

This unacceptable repression is due to a number of reasons, but, at the systemic level, the main one is surely the dependence of these schools to their public image. Because their profitability depends on their reputation among people wishing to be enrolled there, and among companies, so as to be able to ‘place’ the students graduating from them (and thus use these placements as arguments with future students, closing the loop). This pushes school administrations to exploit students for their own profit.

In particular, we will see schools giving priority to students who are able to boost their reputation, and therefore to those considered ‘gifted’ in the current economic framework. In addition to deepening inequalities, as resources are redirected towards the students who need them least, to the detriment of those who need them most, this contributes to the degradation of relations between students, some of them causing harm to others out of a sense of competition, or jealousy. All of this takes place under the gaze of school managements, who even go so far as to protect abusers in order to uphold the reputation of their school. We received reports of students who had sexually assaulted and/or harassed others and were not punished because this could have ‘damaged the quality’ of their end of studies projects.

In fact, these student projects are used as marketing materials, serving to promote the school above all else. The theft of students work by their education institutions is a common practice: copying the video game industry, the schools’ contracts include copyright assignment clauses in their favour. Although always illegal, since it is absolutely impossible to assign rights to future works, which do not yet exist, in France, the existence of these clauses will allow schools to exercise leverage over students to claim the use of their work for their own publicity. As an example: the french Pégases awards, which grant an award (already problematic in itself) for student projects, attributes the authorship of these projects not to the students themselves, but to the school from which they come. Students are not considered the authors of these projects.

As if this were not enough, students are often forced, or in the best cases ‘very strongly invited’, to work to promote the school at open days and other trade shows. This unpaid work allows schools to fake transparency with visitors, allowing them to talk ‘freely’ with people currently studying at the school. In reality, students are often present to earn bonus points or because the school’s promotion counts as a required teaching unit. Schools provide them with talking points and monitor what they say, with several accounts reporting the discomfort and guilt felt by students forced to lie to convince high school students to enrol in a school where they themselves feel bad.

Ultimately, the exploitation of students can be extremely literal when schools use them as cheap, expendable labour. Because even when students work for their school within a legal framework, which is rarely the case, the double worker/student subordination relationship with the company allows schools to use the student status to put pressure on working conditions and salaries, with no possibility of external control.

Thanks to the testimonies collected, we were able to notice that schools exploit students to replace teaching units, by making them work for example on assignments for private companies “to prepare them for the professional world”, or even as “teachers” by entrusting lab sessions or first year lectures to students from higher years. Cases of illegal employment of students, without a contract and with variable “payment methods” (gift vouchers, discount on their tuition, etc.), are also not rare. Among other things, we were told of schools that use students as watchmen to keep the school premises open at night and on weekends, without any supervision, or as a replacement for the IT department by putting them in charge of maintaining the school’s computers and installing pirated versions of software.

One Reply to “Students are being exploited for the benefit of schools’ image”

Comments are closed.