Mini-Macrons: stu­dents flock to pres­i­dent’s alma mater

French pres­i­dent be­hind boom in in­ter­na­tional ap­pli­ca­tions to Sciences Po. Jack Grove re­ports

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Jack.grove@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Em­manuel Macron’s rapid rise to France’s pres­i­dency was al­ways likely to raise the in­ter­na­tional pro­file of his alma mater.

But Frédéric Mion (pic­tured in­set), di­rec­tor of Sciences Po, where the French pres­i­dent was also once a vis­it­ing lec­turer, was sur­prised to see a 60 per cent in­crease in in­ter­na­tional ap­pli­ca­tions to the elite Paris in­sti­tu­tion for next year.

“We’ve seen in­creases of 6 or 7 per cent, even 10 per cent, but never this kind of in­crease,” said Mr Mion, who has lit­tle doubt that the boom in ap­pli­ca­tions is caused by the “Macron ef­fect”, which has led to re­newed in­ter­est in France from busi­ness lead­ers too.

“This is a di­rect re­sult of what the world is now feel­ing to­wards France – this spe­cific French mo­ment is great for busi­ness and a bonus for higher ed­u­ca­tion and I am glad to see Sciences Po was well po­si­tioned for that,” Mr Mion told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

Mr Macron (main pic­ture) – de­scribed by his tu­tors as an “ex­cep­tional stu­dent in all re­spects”, de­spite his “ten­dency to be too sure of him­self”, ac­cord­ing to press re­ports – has yet to visit Sciences Po since he was elected in May.

But he has been a fre­quent vis­i­tor in re­cent years; as fi­nance min­is­ter, he was guest of hon­our at the 2015 grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony, and he re­turned three times in 2016, in­clud­ing for the send-off for a re­tir­ing lec­turer who he had be­friended. If the 40-year-old French leader does re­turn to­wards the end of his five-year pres­i­dency, he is likely to find that the elite in­sti­tu­tion has changed dra­mat­i­cally. By 2022, Sciences Po aims to have moved into its new Ar­tillerie cam­pus – a 14,000 square me­tre for­mer Do­mini­can con­vent pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied by France’s Min­istry of the Armed Forces. Once com­bined with its Rue de l’univer­sité site, it will cre­ate a 22,000 square me­tre cam­pus in Paris’ his­toric 7th ar­rondisse­ment, bi­sected only by the fa­mous Boule­vard Saint-ger­main.

“We’ve been given a his­toric op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a proper ur­ban cam­pus – one that will be com­pa­ra­ble to some of the great cam­puses found in New York, Sin­ga­pore or Hong Kong,” said Mr Mion.

Sciences Po will not sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease its num­bers from about 13,000 stu­dents – 8,000 of whom are in Paris, with the oth­ers based in its net­work of six re­gional cam­puses – but will close 17 sites to con­sol­i­date teach­ing and re­search in just four lo­ca­tions, he ex­plained.

“We’ve cho­sen to reaf­firm our pres­ence in the city, rather than think about mov­ing to the out­skirts,” said Mr Mion – a ref­er­ence to the de­ci­sion by some in­sti­tu­tions to re­lo­cate to Paris-saclay, a €7.5 bil­lion (£5.9 bil­lion) re­search clus­ter south of Paris. “We re­alise the value of hav­ing a cen­tral lo­ca­tion in a global cap­i­tal, rather than be­ing in the sub­urbs.”

This in­cludes easy ac­cess to Paris’ busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal elite, with many lawyers, diplo­mats and en­trepreneurs teach­ing for sev­eral hours a week in ad­di­tion to their nor­mal day job, Mr Mion said.

“If we were so far away, they prob­a­bly could not play such a role with us be­cause it would be too much ef­fort [to reach stu­dents],” he added.

Sciences Po has di­verged sig­nif­i­cantly from other French higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions in sev­eral other ways.

While Sciences Po is highly selec­tive – only about one in five un­der­grad­u­ate ap­pli­cants was ac­cepted last year – about 10 per cent of its in­take have, from 2002, been ad­mit­ted, not on the ba­sis of the no­to­ri­ously tough pré­pas en­trance exam, but af­ter an in­ter­view. This has en­abled Sciences Po to ad­mit many more stu­dents from de­prived ar­eas, with 27 per cent of stu­dents now on schol­ar­ships. “This was con­tro­ver­sial when it was in­tro­duced, but it is now part of the land­scape,” said Mr Mion.

Like its sis­ter in­sti­tu­tion, the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics, which was modelled on Sciences Po when it was founded in 1895, it is also highly in­ter­na­tional, with about 50 per cent of stu­dents com­ing from abroad. That in­ter­na­tional fee in­come has fur­ther em­pow­ered Sciences Po’s long-held tra­di­tion of aca­demic au­ton­omy, al­low­ing it to ex­per­i­ment with new de­grees mix­ing dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines, Mr Mion said.

“Only about 38 per cent of our in­come comes from the state, which is much less than it was for us a few years ago,” he said, com­par­ing it with other French uni­ver­si­ties, which typ­i­cally re­ceive 90 to 95 per cent of their fund­ing from the gov­ern­ment.

So, will Pres­i­dent Macron seek to give other uni­ver­si­ties a bit more Sciences Po-style free­dom to ex­per­i­ment and also ex­pand their in­ter­na­tional stu­dent in­take?

“[Macron] is look­ing for ways to give more free­dom to uni­ver­si­ties. Since he’s come to of­fice, he’s been a game changer for many of us, par­tic­u­larly in the way that France is viewed,” said Mr Mion, whose staff, as a re­sult, are hav­ing to sift through many more ap­pli­ca­tions.

“There are space con­straints so it is dif­fi­cult to add to our cur­rent pop­u­la­tion, so it’s a mat­ter of who we will take,” said Mr Mion, who added “it’s a nice prob­lem to have”.

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