French HE revolution

Nieuws | de redactie
4 november 2011 | The French government plans on merging public institutes, single faculties, and the elite grandes écoles into comprehensive universities. The importance of grandes écoles for French higher education shrinks.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is set to turn the French highereducation landscape upside down. For decades, top politicians,successful businessman and bankers were recruited from Frenchgrandes écoles. Sarkozy himself studied at the elite instituteSciences Po for a while but failed due to his insufficient commandof the English language.

Now, the very same grandes écoles will see their role becomingmarginalized. Sarkozy has instructed his higher education ministerLaurent Wauquiez to create centers ofexcellence and comprehensive universities consisting of publicinstitutes, single faculties, and the elite grandes écolesthemselves.

Ivy League? Sorbonne League!

The goal is to build what media called a “Sorbonne League” thatcan compete with top universities worldwide. Institutes would thenno longer publish their research individually, but under the nameof the comprehensive university.

Rankings show that France could indeed use a push forexcellence. In the recent Times Higher Education ranking only fiveFrench institutes made it into the top 200 which is quite lowcompared to a smaller country like the Netherlands featuring12universities in the same list.

For this project, Sarkozy is willing to put quite some money onthe table. Six or seven of these comprehensive universities willreceive state endowments of € 1 billion each. This money is part ofthe Invest in the Future program worth € 35 billionof which € 22 billion go to higher education

Fusing fragmented faculties

“There are too many small universities. In the past, we had 85universities and 225 grandes écoles – it’s a bit too much. We havemerged different universities and put all their strengths together.We had good schools, but we now have the capacity to compete withthe best universities in the world,” commented Wauquiez.

French businesses are welcoming Sarkozy’s greater emphasis ofcomprehensive institutions. Former Vivendi chief executive andpresident of the University of Bordeaux Foundation Jean-RenéFourtou said that “in my 17 years as a CEO, no programme in agrande école has produced (usable) research. Universities are muchbetter. Universities have more potential than grandes écoles.”

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