Introduction: French Higher Education and the New Republican State
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This chapter presents the dualistic of higher education in France: on the one hand, there are the Grandes écoles dedicated to elite students, and on the other, there are the system of universities for other students. Even though the current trend in France is to gather the two kinds of institutions into a regional ComUE (i.e., Communités d’universités et d’établissements), this great divide has existed for more than 200 years and still retains its historic division. How did this duality arise within French higher education? We trace the medieval beginnings of European universities and the impact of the French Revolution on higher education in the late eighteenth century. This revolution of education gave birth to France’s Grandes écoles and thus this dualism in higher education. At the origin of this educational revolution, we stress the role of Nicolas de Condorcet, a French mathematician, philosopher and politician who played a major role in the invention of the Grandes écoles. This chapter describes some of Condorcet’s work along with a representative description of the Grandes écoles of the period.