In a new study, INSEE compared access to schooling for rural and urban youth. To compare the figures to reality, three professionals, from the countryside of Pas-de-Calais, tell their journey to higher education.
“I come from a small village in Pas-de-Calais, called Guarbecque, about 1,500 inhabitants, half an hour by car from Béthunes. Everyone knows each other, it’s literally the image that you can get away from a country village. It’s very lively, there are a lot of events all year round. My village, I tell everyone about it” joke Erwan Depaeuw.
After passing through the SupInfogame school in Valenciennes and with the developer Ankama, the 24-year-old young man now works at Ubisoft, as a member of the editorial team in charge of mobile projects. Marion Laouadi has become product marketing manager in Paris. She was born in Evin-Malmaison, “in the bush”, as she says affectionately. Ophélie Hochart*, comes from the village of Tingry, 300 inhabitants. After practicing several professions and traveling in several countries, she now has the title ofAdministrative Officer in a large company in Amiens
* This is a pseudonym
All left their country of origin to pursue higher education. Because when it comes to investing in one’s professional future, rural youth and urban youth are still not equal. This is what emerges from a study by INSEE, presented to the press on 18 January. Sometimes as early as primary school, school children in the countryside must be educated away from their homes. Whether it’s the lack of transport infrastructure, inequalities in the school map, or mentalities, very specific brakes that hinder their progress.
From high school, rural young people cover an average of 22 minutes, urban young people less than half. At 16, Erwan Depaeuw chose boarding school, but more for the life experience: “the path, it was not the sea to drink either” relativize it. Marion Laouadi, she studied in Douai, and took the train every day.
Students also discover a discrepancy in experiences, which is played out as much on details as on deeper considerations. “At school, in Valenciennes, there are students who come from all over the world, I had a little culture shock, confirms the young video game professional. I always said to a Parisian friend that, coming from the countryside, I always wanted to live in Paris, to experience this effervescence of the city. Him, having grown up there, he found it more anxiety-provoking than anything else. A big difference in vision!”
Ophelie Hochart, she still laughs at this memory. “In my village, I was raised by old people. There is this nice atmosphere, of mutual aid between neighbors: the one who has a hen offers eggs, the one who has guinea fowl kills them for Christmas. When I arrived In Boulogne, it shocked me, and even more so in Lille. There were so many people! I had never even experienced a traffic jam, it was the discovery.”
“The discrepancy is multifactorial. I cannot attribute it 100% to the fact of being rural. There is the fact of being poor, which is obviously linked: my parents had limited means, I did not have the same habits of life, outings, vacations” remembers from his side Marion Laouadi.
As the studies last and become more specialized, this financial cost increases further, often at the same time as the distance from home. All three consider themselves lucky.
“For me, it was studying in Lille, or nothing. From post-baccalaureate, I prepared for the Sciences Po competitions, the same for all provincial IEPs. It was blocking: I had put Lille first choice, but if I had had any other city, I was not going to Sciences Po. It was not possible for my parents to pay for accommodation elsewhere, talks about responsible commercialization. Even when it was technically possible, it was very complicated for my parents. There was our habit of being poor, this “you never know”.
“I sincerely think that if I hadn’t been an only child, I most certainly wouldn’t have been able to do what I do, esteems Erwan Depaeuw for his part. At SupInfogame Valenciennes, for a master’s degree, tuition costs up to 9,500 euros per year. It was a big sacrifice for them for 5 years, they were able to bear it, but it is an important consideration to take into account. And you don’t just pay for school, but also the cost of living.”
Ophélie Hochart recognizes it: we had to make choices that involve a whole family. “Originally, I wanted to go to a top business school, the annual prizes didn’t make it possible. I also had to give up a master’s in Boston, so as not to go into debt over 20 years. My parents come from modest origins, but my mother was from the city. She always wanted me to go to higher education, she put money aside in an account. I was still able to do my course, go to New Zealand. She has bled through all her veins to give me these opportunities.”
“I honestly don’t know anyone I’ve been to class with who’s had this ‘elitist’ background. The people I’m still in contact with have stayed within a 20km radius and work nearby. For example, there’s no a lot of Amazon warehouses in the North, it’s very much an option for people I know” says Marion Laouadi, a native of Evin-Malmaison.
“The majority of my primary school girlfriends are much more precarious. They work as cleaners, caregivers, secretaries, cashiers… They wanted to stay in the village and therefore, they took jobs that were available nearby. Many already have children of 6 or 7 years old. I tell them that I am not even married!” kidding Ophelie Hochart.
None of them judge these courses, desired or undergone. “It’s divided into two: those who moved to study, and those who stayed, and who in general have already been in active life for several years. If you want to stay, you have to accept that you can’t do everything, simply summarizes Erwan Depaeuw. I don’t know if this choice “conditions” us, but we have to ask ourselves the question.”
INSEE notes this on a broader level, in a 2018 study: “workers residing in municipalities in rural areas generally have a lower level of education than the population of Hauts-de-France as a whole. They are thus less frequently graduates from higher education than on average regional (23% versus 30%)”. On the other hand, they are better integrated into the labor market. Not only is the unemployment rate lower in rural municipalities, but moreover, “a characteristics of equivalent age and diploma, a resident of the rural area of the region is thus 1.6 times more likely to be employed than a resident of the urban area.
“It would be interesting to have more ‘prestigious’ teaching structures in our area, but that’s a whole. If a specialized school exists in a sparsely populated area, housing must also be provided for the students. Small rural towns are not necessarily able to finance all of this. The alternative could be to provide specific scholarships, so that it is not a burden to come from further away” reflects Erwan Depaeuw.
For Marion Laouadi and Ophélie Hochart, the stakes are education and mentalities. “In the village, my mother’s mentality was an exception, believes the latter. There is something that shocked me at the time. Our college had a partnership with a high school that offered apprenticeship only, and they were really pushing. They told us “we need hands, there are too many intellectuals anyway”. Most people apprenticed because they were told to.”
“What matters are our horizons, our future prospects. Coming from a lost hometown in the North, I was not spontaneously told about Sciences Po, the possibility of living in Lille… abounds Marion Laouadi, the marketing manager. We are not offered everything. And there is also a form of self-censorship: we do not dare to project ourselves into this type of journey, it is not natural. School is the sinews of war.”