Fluctuat et Mergitur

Your voice of reason at Paris-Saclay

Creating GoodUni
As we have reported earlier, 5 engineering schools have split away from the Paris-Saclay project: École Polytechnique, Télécom ParisTech, Télécom SudParis, ENSTA ParisTech, and ENSAE. These 5 will form a new university, whose working name is NewUni. Fluctuat&Mergitur has now secured exclusive access to the founding document of this new university. The document (pictured on the right) is called “Creating GoodUni” — a title that seems to indicate that new university shall not just be “new”, but also “good”. This by itself is a novum in local university politics, which has so far concentrated mainly on creating new institutions rather than on improving these institutions (much like, admittedly, this newspaper has concentrated mainly on criticising bad things, instead of proposing good things). Both are now about to change.

The GoodUni-document is admirably different from the usual project descriptions. In a welcome departure from previous white papers, it does not talk about “ambition”, “visibility”, “strategy”, “international rankings”, and “dreams of an MIT à la française”. Instead, it talks of “necessary reforms”, “improving the quality of research”, “reducing bureaucracy”, “optimizing the study conditions for our students”, and “making sacrifices for a greater good”. These are terms were so far not very prominent in such project descriptions. We have talked to Dr. Naibaf from Télécom ParisTech (previously an ardent supporter of Paris-Saclay; now an ardent supporter of NewUni) about this unexpected change of mind. Dr. Naibaf explains:

Our main insight was that excellence does not come from claiming it, but from earning it. Therefore, we now aim to first improve our educational offer, research, and organization. For this, we are guided by the best interests of the students, the professors, and industry — rather than by some international ranking agencies. We believe that if our school is good, the good ranking will follow by itself.

This strategy is different from the previous plan, which involved putting plenty of institutes together, creating some layers of administration on top of it, and hoping that the result makes it into the international rankings. This plan was now abandoned — quite possibly because it did not work. Over the past 5 years, the ambitions of Paris-Saclay have continuously declined. While the university wanted to be in the top 10 schools in 2013, this ambition decreased to the top 15 in 2015, to the top 20 in 2017, and to the top 30 most recently (see figure on the right). If the ambition ever falls below the top 50, Paris-Sud is expected to leave the compound university altogether. This is because Paris-Sud alone is already at rank 46.

Now, the founding fathers of NewUni want to do better. For this, they have a surprising strategy in mind. Dr. Naibaf explains:

We have understood that it is not sufficient to take the international top schools as examples for the ranking. We also have to take them as examples in their way of organizing their research, their studies, and their administration.
In other words, NewUni wants to learn from EPFL, Stanford, Oxford, CalTech, TUM and the like in order to re-organize the new institution. This is, again, a radical departure from the previous school of thought, which held that everything could basically stay the way it is if a new layer of administration is added on top. This thinking is now nowhere to be found. In no uncertain terms, the GoodUni-document now declares that the partner schools of NewUni are “ready to change [their] way of functioning, ready to plan for the long term, and ready to abandon what [they] previously held dear — with the ultimate goal of improving the common institution.”.

All of this sounds almost too good to be true. You may think it is the product of some fake news site or a satirical magazine. And yet, who could be a more trustful source than this newspaper? Follow us through our analysis of the GoodUni-document:

  1. Master programs
  2. Shared Calendar
  3. Digital Infrastructure
  4. Research
We also provide a (less funny, but more serious) summary of the GoodUni document.
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