Five things to know about the ‘best’ university in France

France's École Polytechnique has been named the country's best traditional university in the latest global rankings - here is what you need to know about the venerable Paris institution.

Five things to know about the 'best' university in France
The Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau, near Paris. Photo: Google maps

1. It's supervised by the Ministry of Defence.

This is due to its unusual history. Founded in 1794 by the mathematicians Lazare Carnot and Gaspard Monge, 10 years later it was taken over by Napolean and dedicated as a military academy. It was Napoleon who gave it the motto it still uses today Pour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire (For the Nation, science and glory. These days it has no military curriculum, but remains technically supervised by the Ministry of Defence.


In a nod to the school's military past, cadets still parade on Bastille Day in Paris. Photo: AFP

2. It is very international.

It has 3,000 students, of whom 36 percent are overseas students, and 670 faculty members, 39 percent of whom are international. In total there are 60 different nationalities on campus. It focuses on science, engineering and technology and is highly selective, accepting only a fraction of the thousands of students who take its entrance exam each year.

3. It didn't admit women until 1972.

4. It's keen on sport.

Students, except those in exchange programmes, are required to do six hours of sport a week and the university has excellent facilities for a wide range of sporting activities. Beer pong (or le bière-pong as its known in French) is not accepted as part of the sports quota.

5. It has a museum.

So diverse and fascinating is the university's history that it has recently opened a museum to tell its own story. The museum features the history of the school and the work of some of its most famous alumni. This is a dizzying list which includes former president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Citroen founder André Citroen, builder of the Paris Metro Fulgence Bienvenüe, Millau Viaduct engineer Michel Virlogeux and too many Nobel Prize winners to count.

The École Polytechnique has been ranked number 60 in the world in the latest QS global rankings – the highest rating in France for a traditional university.

The highest ranking French institution at number 53 was the relatively newly created Université PSL, an umbrella organisation combining the research of Chimie ParisTech, Collège de France, École normale supérieure (Paris), École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la ville de Paris and the Observatoire de Paris to form a scientific cooperation foundation. It was awarded university status in 2011, making it eligible for the global rankings.

The top end of the list is heavily dominated by American universities, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at the number one position, followed by Stanford, and Harvard. Britain's top two universities Oxford and Cambridge and Oxford are ranked at 4 and 7 respectively. 


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Police probe opened after poster campaign against ‘Islamophobic’ lecturers at French university

The French government condemned on Monday a student protest campaign targeting two university professors accused of Islamophobia, saying it could put the lecturers in danger.

Police probe opened after poster campaign against 'Islamophobic' lecturers at French university
Illustration photo: Justin Tallis/AFP

Student groups plastered posters last week on the walls of a leading political science faculty in Grenoble that likened the professors to “fascists” and named them both in a campaign backed by the UNEF student union.

Junior interior minister Marlene Schiappa said the posters and social media comments recalled the online harassment of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty last October, who was beheaded in public after being denounced online for offending Muslims.

“These are really odious acts after what happened with the decapitation of Samuel Paty who was smeared in the same way on social networks,” she said on the BFM news channel. “We can’t put up with this type of thing.”

“When something is viewed as racist or discriminatory, there’s a hierarchy where you can report these types of issues, which will speak to the professor and take action if anything is proven,” Schiappa said.

Sciences Po university, which runs the Institute of Political Studies (IEP) in Grenoble in eastern France, also condemned the campaign on Monday and has filed a criminal complaint.

An investigation has been opened into slander and property damage after the posters saying “Fascists in our lecture halls. Islamophobia kills” were found on the walls of the faculty.

One of the professors is in charge of a course called “Islam and Muslims in contemporary France” while the other is a lecturer in German who has taught at the faculty for 25 years.