Questioning a tradition: a French way of excellence
The following article was written in French as a keynote speech at the IGIP Symposiumat the Biel School of Engineering (University of Applied Sciences, in Biel, Switzerland), held in March 2000. The topic of this symposium was 'Unique and Excellent'. It aimed to show that engineering education cannot really head towards unification, but will reach uniqueness and excellency if there are many different ways of educating engineers. What happens on the spot, in each technical university, in each course, is much more important for excellence than the fact that all curricula can be compared directly at an international level. Owing to the very particular way of educating engineers in France, it was considered most important to learn about this particular organization. André Béraud accepted presenting it to the audience. His contribution had a very lively echo. The text presents a short outline of the history of French engineering education and its very particular ways and means. Engineering is not taught at technical universities but at Grandes Ecoles (Grand Schools), which represent a very high level of education open only to the very best. They will form the élite of the public servants of France, much more than what is generally considered the task of an engineer. In consequence, the education is broadly based with humanities as an important element in it; it is also very scientific, with mathematics and theoretical physics as central topics. The disadvantage of such a system lies in the fact that it is most rigid, not very open to the needs of industry and of foreign students. There have been, however, some changes.