An excerpt from the presentation made by Dr. Beat Münch, Head of the Rector’s Office, University of Basel, at the GPP 2012 Input Seminar. His full notes are available on the Scholar site – GPP.doc.
‘On the level of the long degree programs you have again two types of systems.
The first one is the classic university with bachelor, master and doctoral programs. (Bachelor in France is called licence in order to avoid a confusion with Baccalauréat = Bachelor). The access to this system is open with a bacc. général. There are therefore no entrance examinations. The selection is carried out during the first year. Depending on the programs the “triage” can be very severe especially for prestigious degree programs e.g. medicine or for renowned universities e.g. law studies at Paris 1.
The second system is represented by the Grandes Ecoles which are a French speciality. They are preparing to professional degrees which are basically diplômes d’ingénieurs. The schools are highly selective. The entrance examinations called concours need a special preparation which is given by the Classes préparatoires situated on the level of the lycées or the schools themselves. It’s yet difficult to be admitted in on of these classes and it’s even more difficult to be successful in the concours itself. Depending on the type of Grandes Ecoles the success rate can be lower than ten percent. These Grandes Ecoles are one of the most controversial issues in the discussion about the modernization of the French educational system. It is quite obvious that they are reinforcing the social differences, the isolation and the auto reproduction of the social elites. There is no international benchmark for this kind of system.
But it is a fact that the graduates of these Schools have more opportunities on the labour market than others. And quite often a degree of one of the Grandes Ecoles is equivalent to a job in the national administration. This is for example true for the famous ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration). Nearly all presidents of the French Republic are alumni of the ENA. But it is difficult to argue that students of the ENA are the best because they are successful on the labour market. Sociological studies have shown that it is not only the surely high qualification of the graduates but the degree in itself which is the door opener for prestigious jobs.’