[lg policy] An Elite French University Creates an English-Language Campus

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 7 14:44:05 UTC 2010

An Elite French University Creates an English-Language Campus

By Aisha Labi

Reims, France

As he wanders around a leafy courtyard in search of his partner for a
freshman-orientation bonding exercise, Oliver Musial looks like a
typical college student embarking on his studies at any American
university. But the setting is a former 17th-century Jesuit college in
Reims, one of France's most historic cities, and Mr. Musial is
something of an academic pioneer. He is one of 81 students who last
week began their college career at the new Euro-American campus of the
Institute of Political Studies of Paris, the prestigious
higher-education institution best known by its nickname Sciences Po.

The opening of the Reims campus, which offers most of its courses in
English, marks the first time that a French higher-education
institution has created a campus specifically focused on North
American studies, and on attracting students from that part of the
world, institute officials say.  One of the things that drew Oliver
Musial, of Montreal, to the campus in Reims is the opportunity to
study abroad in the United States.
One of the things that drew Oliver Musial, of Montreal, to the campus
in Reims is the opportunity to study abroad in the United States.

For Mr. Musial, who is from Montreal and who also considered attending
colleges in Canada and the United States, Sciences Po in Reims
presented not just a more affordable option than an American
institution, but an opportunity to eventually study in the United
States, thanks to the Sciences Po requirement that students spend one
of their three undergraduate years studying abroad. Mr. Musial has
just arrived in France, but he leaves no doubt about where his true
geographic inclination lies. "I really want to go to the U.S.," he

The Reims campus, in eastern France, is the sixth outside of Paris to
be opened by Sciences Po. Each of the institution's other regional
outposts also has a specific geographic focus. The first branch
campus, opened a decade ago in Nancy, has a Franco-German orientation,
for example, while the one in Menton is focused on the Middle East,
the Mediterranean, and the Persian Gulf. Sciences Po recruits
internationally to give each campus, including its latest, a global

 Richard Descoings, the longtime director of Sciences Po, says that
the succession of campuses reflects an evolving notion of how a
successful university must orient itself. "Most universities in most
countries are extremely nationally focused," he says. Only a handful
have realized that, in order to train "the future global elite," they
must turn their attention outward. The branch campuses are
emphatically not an attempt to franchise the highly respected Sciences
Po brand, Mr. Descoings says, but are an extension of the Paris-based
institution's reach.

"We are a decentralized campus, but the quality obsession we have is
centralized," he says. Legally, the campus in Reims, like all the
others, is a part of Sciences Po Paris, he says. And just as the Paris
campus draws part-time faculty members from other prestigious
institutions in the city, so will much of the teaching staff on the
Reims campus be drawn from the major local institution, the University
of Reims Champagne-Ardenne. "We have our own faculty, of course, but
it would be useless not to benefit from the quality of the professors
who are permanent members of the faculty of the Sorbonne and other
Helping Regional Development

The swift transformation of the historic site into a student-ready
campus was achieved in two years with the backing and financial
support of the city, the local department of Marne, and the region of
Champagne-Ardenne. Each governmental unit is paying a third of the
total cost of  76 million, or nearly $100-million., to establish the
new campus, and each will contribute an additional  1,000, or almost
$1,300, per student in continuing support.

The financial commitment is significant, Reims's deputy mayor, Serge
Pugeault, acknowledges, but the investment is expected to help
stimulate new streams of economic growth in a region where the economy
has been centered around the champagne industry and automotive

The local university already has a student population of 25,000, and
two other grandes ├ęcoles, as France's nonuniversity elite institutions
of higher education are known, are also setting up outposts in Reims,
although without the level of financial support that Sciences Po is

One of the first priorities for the city will be to build enough
student housing to accommodate the influx of new students, says Mr.

The city, whose cathedral was the traditional site for the coronation
of the kings of France, was chosen in part because of its proximity to
Paris--just 45 minutes away by high-speed train. It also has a long
connection with North America, dating from the end of World War I,
when wealthy Americans like Andrew Carnegie helped rebuild the city
after its near destruction.

"Reims is a place where Americans have always played a major role,"
says Nathalie Jacquet, director of the Reims campus. That role is
reflected in the new campus's focus, which Ms. Jacquet says has been a
major drawing point for applicants to the new program. Of the
inaugural class of 81 students, 43 are from high schools outside
France. Eventually, she says, the goal is for half of the students on
the campus to come from North America.

Because most classes will be taught in English, knowing French is not
necessary, although fluency in English is required. For both French
and non-French applicants, the campus's "openness to Canada and
America represents the American dream," she says. "They know that here
they will have the opportunity to study in America, they know that the
best centers are in America, and they want to be part of that
adventure," Ms. Jacquet says.
Attracting More North Americans

Sciences Po faces some hurdles in attracting American and Canadian
students. Although highly regarded in France and elsewhere in Europe,
it has weaker name recognition across the Atlantic, especially among
high-school students.

Alyssa Perkinson, who along with her twin sister Emily is one of just
four American students who enrolled this year, heard about Sciences Po
when she spent her junior year of high school living with a family in
Nantes, in western France. When she wasn't admitted to her top college
choices in the United States, Sciences Po became a more attractive
option for pursuing her interest in studying international relations.

Even Mr. Descoings, Sciences Po's indefatigable ambassador, concedes
that "it's hard to sell Sciences Po to American students," but he says
that being forced to compete with top American institutions for the
best students "is excellent for us, because it obliges us to upgrade
the quality we offer."

For American students, the relative affordability of Sciences Po could
also prove a significant draw. Although expensive by European
standards at  8,900, or nearly $11,500, a year for full tuition,
scholarships are available and an undergraduate degree takes just
three years to complete.

Still, Ms. Jacquet acknowledges that it will take more than discounted
tuition rates to attract American students in significant numbers. She
and other administrators have gone to great effort to provide elements
of the collegiate experience that would resonate with students
familiar with American universities. For example, orientation
activities that focused on team building drew mention in the local
paper's coverage of the campus opening, along with an explanation that
such activities are "very usual in the United States." She says that
the campus will never be in a position to offer the full range of
student-life options that have become de rigueur at so many American
colleges. Still, she says, as it grows and matures, the campus is
certain to attract students "looking for something different than the
pattern they have if they stay at home."


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