24 Apr 2007   |   News

ParisTech wins official status

As France goes to elect a new president, the leading engineering schools constituting ParisTech have obtained their first official recognition by the French government.

Gabriel de Nomazy: “Each school will keep its identity.”

As France goes to elect a new president, the leading engineering schools that make up ParisTech have won their first official recognition by the government. The move safeguards its future from possible post-election political manoeuvring.

Already a higher education and research “pole”, or hub, ParisTech has been granted EPCS (scientific cooperation public institute) status. Its constituent members will be now able to deliver degrees under the name of ParisTech, launch common research programmes and discuss international links as one entity.

Coming together

The various schools are dispersed within a city of 10 million people and its suburbs. De Nomazy wants to gather the various schools and universities around three hubs.

One hub has been there since the thirteenth century and is going to be reinforced: the Latin Quarter, home to ParisTech members Ecole des Mines, Ecole Supérieure Physique Chimie and Paris Agro Tech. Meanwhile, the Ecole des Techniques Avancées and the Ecole Nationale de la Statistique are moving to Palaiseau to be near the Ecole Polytechnique and Orsay University.

Other schools will progressively gather around the Ecoles des Ponts et Chaussées in a new campus in Marne la Vallée, to the east of Paris.

ParisTech was formed in 1991 as a group of ten engineering schools (so called “Grandes Ecoles”) under 90-year-old law giving it the same legal status as French sport clubs or amateurs interest groups. For a club of prominent schools and research universities with a mission to return to Paris some leadership in research and education, it was not much of a status. But it was the only way the institutions could work together. Not any more.

The new status also means that the institution is eligible for public financing – €4 million have already been granted for its first year, to finance 15 academic positions. It’s a small sum compared with the €400 million joint budget of the ten schools. But Paris Tech is also trying to get private sources to match of this sum. More importantly, this money gives the institution the flexibility to compete for professors and researchers on the international market.   

So are the engineering schools preparing to merge? Consolidation is all the rage now in a French system that has been shocked by its poor international ranking – something that French academic authorities are quick to explain by the extreme fragmentation of the French system with its 83 universities, more than 200 “Grandes Ecoles” and various public research institutes like the CNRS and INSERM.

But unlike Grenoble or Toulouse, ParisTech is moving cautiously in the consolidation process. “Our idea is that from now on authors will sign their published research first under the ParisTech name,” explains Gabriel de Nomazy, ParisTech executive vice president. But, he says, the organisational model is more Cambridge, UK, than Cambridge, MIT. “That will not hold back some mergers, but each school will keep its identity.”

But if it wants to emulate truly the federal model of Cambridge with its 31 colleges, ParisTech would also need some sort of a common campus (see Box).

Perhaps the most direct effect of the new status will be in governance. ParisTech is now recruiting a scientific advisory board with international representation both from academic and private research to help its selection of promising fields for research and technology.

With 73 laboratories (plus the 130 ParisTech members currently operating) run jointly with the CNRS, it has already created a strategic council, head by Bertrand Collomb, the CEO of cement maker Lafarge. The new council is clearly a step further toward the private sector and putting an economic value on research.

ParisTech also plans to unite its various technology transfer bureaux under one, probably privatised, roof – Armines, the licensing office of the Ecole des Mines.

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