Tags: Sarkozy | France | revolt | university

Sarkozy Faces Elite French University Revolt

Wednesday, 06 Jan 2010 10:21 AM


The elite colleges that train France’s rulers and top managers were in open revolt against President Sarkozy’s Government yesterday, refusing orders to admit more students from working-class and immigrant backgrounds.

Cabinet ministers expressed shock at the defiant stance adopted by the heads of the grandes écoles, the establishments that educate the cream of the professions. Mr Sarkozy wants them to take 30 per cent of their entrants from low-income families. The colleges retort that to do that would mean dropping their rigorous standards.

The quarrel goes to the heart of Mr Sarkozy’s drive to revamp a once-proud higher-education system that is failing all but a lucky few, leaving France behind in world rankings. Most students are relegated to overcrowded, free-for-all universities with a 25 per cent drop-out rate, while resources are lavished on the privileged 14 per cent who reach a few dozen highly selective colleges, most of them from the higher social classes.

In recent decades France’s old meritocratic path to the top has declined. It has become harder for students from less-educated — and especially immigrant — families to pass the gruelling competitive entrance examinations for the écoles, which include the Polytechnique, the Centrale and the HEC business school.

Mr Sarkozy, a lawyer by profession, has had the écoles in his sights since he won office as one of the few recent French rulers without a diploma from the ultra-elite École Nationale d’Administration, nursery of civil service mandarins, or from one of the other colleges. His grudge may have begun when he failed his exams and dropped out from the Paris Political Sciences Institute, known as Sciences Po, training ground of the political, media and diplomatic elite.

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