From food to fashion to architecture to transportation, the French take a justified pride in their country’s reputation for innovationreports D. D. Guttenplan in the International Herald Tribune (more in Le Monde).
But when the discussion turns to France’s antiquated and underfinanced system of higher education, Gallic pride gives way to defensiveness, and even a certain embarrassment. In 2006, the best any French institution could do was 46th in the influential Shanghai rankings; this year France managed 39th place in two different rankings.
Denunciations of the “Anglo-Saxon” bias and arbitrary methodology of the rating systems was a common theme last week, when representatives from some 135 grandes écoles — literally “great schools,” the specialized academies of engineering, business, science and management that form the elite of the French higher education system — gathered in Paris for their annual conference.
…Born out of the French Enlightenment, the grandes écoles have long been the cradle of the governing class. [Their graduates] occupy a place in French national life similar to Oxbridge graduates in England or the Ivy League in the United States.
Internationally, however, these institutions have far less clout than their Anglo-American counterparts.
… Pierre Tapie, who heads the Conference of Grandes Écoles while also serving as president of the business school Essec, said foreigners found it difficult to understand France’s two-track system of higher education, which distinguishes between universities and the grandes écoles.