Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Vive les grandes ecoles

I guess the US is not the only country with an increasingly elitist economy and education system.

Economist: One of the arresting features of the current student movement is how little it has touched France's grandes ├ęcoles. Sciences Po, a feeder college for these elite schools, has seen nothing of the violence or forced blockades of nearby Paris universities, such as the Sorbonne. Nor have most of the country's top undergraduate business or engineering schools, such as Polytechnique, HEC or ESSEC. Students at such places, taught the latest in finance and economics, understand the price France will pay if it refuses to change. These are the well-trained graduates snapped up by banks in London and New York which are only too happy to benefit from what France does best, and by those French companies now busy exploiting globalisation with such aplomb.

These two faces of France are separated early in the country's two-tier higher education system. At the top, the grandes ├ęcoles cater to a small minority and are highly selective: would-be pupils spend at least a year in a preparatory class just to take the entrance exam. While the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA) is the best-known (and arguably the least well-adapted to the global economy), it recruits only a tiny share of the total. The rest are autonomous, and highly specialised in areas such as engineering or business. And employers pay a premium to hire their graduates. A recent study by Le Nouvel Observateur magazine showed that 96% of graduates from top engineering schools were placed two years later in permanent jobs, earning an average of €30,400 ($36,600). By contrast. only 45% of university psychology graduates had found permanent jobs by the same stage, and their average income was €19,000.

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