The university juggernaut created in early 2020 takes 14th place in the Shanghai ranking. A consecration at the cost of a few concessions.
A consecration. Since August 15, France appears in the Top-20 of the 1000 best universities in the world. Thanks to Paris-Saclay, created on 1is January 2020 and arrival in 14e position of the famous Shanghai ranking. Cock-a-doodle Doo ! sang in chorus the President of the Republic and his Minister of Higher Education, who did not spare their efforts to win this long awaited medal.
Large school selection
Emmanuel Macron, first of all, by noting the divorce of the former Paris-Sud university with its neighbor, the Ecole Polytechnique, at the end of 2017, ending ten years of inaction. And Frédérique Vidal, who, by signing the order of December 12, 2018, created the experimental establishment of the University of Paris-Saclay. She even organized an express trip in January to Shanghai, to convince Chinese dignitaries of the reality of this mastodon of 48,000 students. Phew!
Many other treasures of diplomacy had to be deployed to make this XXL alliance a success. The president of Paris-Saclay, Sylvie Retailleau, likes to recall the decades of shared history: “In the 1980s, we chartered buses to take central students to attend physics courses at Orsay. “From there to getting married … His first job was therefore to spare the susceptibilities. First, those of the grandes écoles, jealous of their autonomy and of their handpicked pupils. In the marriage contract, they must transfer the sovereignty of their masters and doctorates to the university. A sacrifice. In exchange, the first cycle, post-baccalaureate, becomes selective. A dirty word in academia. “This year we opened 13 interdisciplinary double licenses. The one in law and innovation sciences received 500 files for 25 places ”, supports Sylvie Retailleau. This sector weighs 10% of the 20,000 undergraduate students.
“A two-tier university,” deplore the unions. Jacques-Olivier Klein, from the FSU-CGT list, says: Initially, they even chose the orange color of easyJet for the non-selective, low cost diplomas … “Sylvie Retailleau justifies the strategy:” By dint of seeing From our best bachelors in international schools like Polytechnique Lausanne, we had to react! “To still coax the large schools, the board of directors no longer respects the sacrosanct parity with the staff: half of the seats are allocated to outside personalities. “It is now people less involved and in the hands of the president who decide on the strategy,” regrets the trade unionist. “A pledge of openness, rather”, defends Dominique Leglu, director of Sciences et Avenir (Challenges group), who sits there in this capacity.
Power of research
To break through, Paris-Saclay has also benefited from a serious administrative boost. In order to be on Shanghai’s radar, you need as many award-winning professors as possible, Nobel, Fields … Until now, research organizations refused to assign their prestigious hosts to the university that hosts them. Thanks to the 2018 ordinance, the granting is reversed: Paris-Saclay then doubled its number of “highly cited” researchers (13 from CEA, 2 from CNRS and 3 from Inrae)! Better, the temple of mathematics, the IHES, which until then lived its quiet life of “Frup” (recognized training of public utility) in its corner, was also deposited in the basket of the bride. His 6 Fields medalists joined the Paris-Saclay herd (which now has 10, as well as 2 Nobel Prize in physics). “It is an artefact,” squeaks someone close to the X.
It is because the mathematicians in the valley make it rain and shine a bit. For twenty years that the rankings exist, the maths of Orsay oscillates between the 2nd and the 5th place in the world. So, with them, we had to be pragmatic. In 2017, when the separation was signed with Polytechnique, the reproaches erupted: “We have always worked together, we did not see the point of separating”, says Pascal Massart, the head of the Mathematical Foundation Jacques Hadamard, spokesperson of this rather discreet community. Result: “We kept our bridges, our joint masters, our shared blackboards. “Well they took them: in 2020, France is officially world number 1 in mathematics.
But the ranking is not everything. “Now we have to bring what has been created to life,” suggests Thierry Doré, vice-president for research and development. The first visible manifestation of the merger is the contract signed in September with IBM on artificial intelligence. “Everyone took part, from CentraleSupélec to ENS, the University of Orsay and the labs,” said Michel Mariton, vice-president for economic development, with satisfaction. “Before, IBM should have approached each entity, it was laborious. There, in six months, it was folded! “And the Paris-Saclay brand is starting to exist, at least in research:” When you sign with IBM, the one who decides is an American. For him, the Shanghai ranking is a serious argument. »What about the students? According to consultant Sebastian Stride, who has been advising the university since 2012, there is no doubt: “In a few years, even students from Agro or Centrale will prefer to say that they are graduates of Paris-Saclay, that’s the meaning. Of the history ! ”