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What is ENA and why does Macron want to 'abolish' France's most elite university?

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What is ENA and why does Macron want to 'abolish' France's most elite university?
A lecture at the prestigious Ecole Nationale d'Administration. Photo: AFP
20:51 CEST+02:00
French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that he intended to scrap one of the country's most prestigious universities, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA). But what exactly is ENA?
Macron is the fourth president since World War II to have passed through the halls of ENA - his predecessors Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Jacques Chirac and Francois Hollande also attended - and a third of all presidents since 1945 have been graduates.
But Macron might be the last if he decides to go ahead with plans to ditch the post-graduate school in Strasbourg announced in his speech on Thursday aimed at addressing the rising resentment that led to the months of yellow vest protests.
 "We will need to abolish ENA, among others, to be able to build something else," he said of the post-graduate school in the eastern city of Strasbourg that has educated top French politicians and public officials since 1945.

The courtyard at the prestigious Ecole Nationale d'Administration. Photo: AFP

What exactly is the Ecole Nationale d'Administration? 
Widely seen as a breeding ground for the elite, the ENA is the training system for top French civil servants and politicians and the school is located in Strasbourg in eastern France. 
ENA students are an average age of 31 years old, according to the school's director Patrick Gerard, who said that they usually start their studies at the ENA after "many years of experience working" or a longer than average time spent in higher education. 
ENA graduates, known as Enarques in France, form a network of influence that stretches across the top echelons of politics and business, making it a target for critics of the French establishment for decades.
But its success in producing highly-qualified public administrators, most of whom go on to hold senior jobs in ministries or public bodies, has spawned copycat institutions in other countries, including in Russia.
It was created in 1945 in the aftermath of World War II when France needed to rebuild its civil service, parts of which had collaborated with France's Nazi occupiers during the conflict.
It succeeded initially in opening up the vast public administration to people drawn from different backgrounds, rather than the old aristocracy which had traditionally dominated the French state.
But in recent decades, studies have shown its intake narrowing increasingly to the children of wealthy families, often those with past links to the school, despite an entrance exam which is open to everyone and supposedly meritocratic.
Why does Macron want to scrap it?
In a national address he was due to make last week but which was shelved when the Notre-Dame cathedral caught fire, Macron was to announce the scrapping of the school on the grounds it was failing in its mission.
According to a leaked copy of Macron's speech last week, he was going to justify closing ENA on grounds that public institutions should offer "chances to all of our young people on the basis of merit and not their social or family origins".
(A picture taken on October 3, 1995 shows a partial view of the official picture of the French and foreigner students of the promotion 1994/1996 "Victor Schoelcher" of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (National School of Administration) (ENA),) in Strasbourg. Photo: AFP
However reports suggest the French leader may have had a re-think about ENA and will back a reform of the institution and its entrance process and criteria, rather than an outright closure.
When Macron was studying there, his year group was highly critical of the management of the school.
At the end of their two years of study and work experience, the graduates wrote a letter denouncing the teaching methods and intake. 
But as a presidential candidate, Macron frequently defended his alma mater, saying he had won a place there through hard work, not connections, given that his parents were doctors in provincial France.
How has the school reacted?
Patrick Gerard, the school's director, acknowledged on Wednesday that only 19 percent of current students had a parent from a blue-collar background.
"We need to do better," he said in a column for Le Figaro newspaper which pleaded for the school to be spared.
"ENA students are not driven by the desire to complicate the lives of their fellow citizens," he said, adding "they are sincerely anxious to commit themselves to their country for the sake of the common good."
Daniel Keller, who heads an association of former students, told AFP: "The French are aware that their administration is rather well managed, competent, neutral and not politicised, and all of that we owe in part to ENA."
How have others reacted?
Since the address was leaked, Macron has been accused of demagoguery by some critics who say closing ENA will do nothing to resolve the underlying problems of inequality in French society.
Former president Francois Hollande on Wednesday recognised the need for reform but warned against the school's closure: "I went to this school, I do not repent. I do not scourge myself by saying 'it's terrible, I went to this school'." 
David Guilbaud, a French administrator who has written a book about ENA, said closing the school was "a very good bit of PR but one that does not resolve the problem of how to train the top civil service."
The 41-year-old is set to respond to months of protests by "yellow vest" demonstrators on Thursday by announcing a slew of policy measures to respond to their anger. 
Is it really worth scrapping?
The ENA management pointed out recently that the diversity of social classes represented by the school's students is more diverse than is being suggested.
"In the current class, 26 percent of students are on scholarships, 14 percent are the grandchildren of blue collar workers, 9 percent are the grandchildren of farmers, 12 percent of artisan's or shopkeeper's grandchildren and 12 percent of are grandchildren of ordinary office workers".
This, they argue, means that meany students have grandparents from disadvantaged social classes.
However the school refused to give the figures of the number of pupils whose parents are workers or farmers.
According to FranceInfo most of the students were the children of managers, something which has only increased since the school's inception.
The proportion of students with a father in management was 45 percent in 1950 and reached 70 percent in 2014.
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