Your voice of reason at Paris-Saclay
Fluctuat&Mergitur: Dr. Naibaf, Paris-Saclay suffered from a wide range of problems. Has NewUni learned from these issues?
Dr. Naibaf: Absolutely! We have been part of Paris-Saclay, and I can assure you that we have learned from our experience!
Fluctuat&Mergitur: That is great to hear! The matter is of a certain urgency, because NewUni will open its gates to students in 8 months time, in September 2019. So let us start with the first problem of Paris-Saclay, the complete lack of infrastructure. In its early years, Paris-Saclay had no working digital infrastructure apart from an application platform, no shared calendar, and no clear structure of organization. This has severely hampered the functioning of the system, and generated much extra work and frustration. Did NewUni learn from this?
Dr. Naibaf: Indeed, it did! We have studied the situation of Paris-Saclay very closely, and we have done our best to learn from it. Let me give you some examples. To this date, Paris-Saclay has no centralized system to register students, lecturers, courses, and course grades. And we have learned this. We also have no centralized system to register students, lecturers, and courses. The NewUni institutes use the same software, but the systems are not interoperable, and we have no plans to change that. We do not even have a system to handle student applications. We also have no plans to create a shared calendar. Furthermore, we have not formally created any working groups for the fields of study (“mentions”) to this date. You can thus see that we have implemented 1:1 what we have learned at Paris-Saclay.
Fluctuat&Mergitur: That is, er, impressive. How about the other major problem of Paris-Saclay, the lack of communication? In Paris-Saclay, the important committees did not publish their meeting notes. One committee disintegrated without anybody noticing. Major decisions were not communicated — most blatantly the decision of Paris-Sud to transform itself into Paris-Saclay. Has NewUni learned its lesson from these circumstances?
Dr. Naibaf: Absolutely! We have completely learned this lesson. And as good students (laughs), we have implemented what we have learned. At NewUni, no committee has so far published its meeting notes either. I am not even sure whether all committees produce them. And as for the major decisions: NewUni has agreed with Paris-Saclay to continue the shared master programs in the academic year 2019. This is a fundamental agreement, which has implications for the teaching load and the organizational load for most of our lecturers. Nevertheless, this decision was never sent in written form to the lecturers. We can thus say that we have learned our lesson from Paris-Saclay!
Fluctuat&Mergitur: That is, erm, good to hear. Another problem at Paris-Saclay was that Paris-Sud tried to dominate the common university. This has caused much critique from the others. We hesitate to ask, but did NewUni learn anything here?
Dr. Naibaf: You see, this is a more difficult example to learn from. The principal obstacle is that Paris-Sud is not a member of NewUni. But we are working on a similar scheme also for NewUni. In this spirit, we have created graduate degrees. These are master programs at Ecole Polytechnique, which are officially co-branded with all NewUni partners, and in which NewUni lecturers teach. Yet, the NewUni partners are mentioned nowhere by name on the front page of the program or the brochure. Students from NewUni universities can participate in the program for 12,000 EUR, while students from Polytechnique can participate for free.
Fluctuat&Mergitur: This looks indeed as if there were a lesson to be learned. Another major problem at Paris-Saclay was that the institutes never agreed to delegate powers to the central organization of Paris-Saclay. In this way, there was no central entity that spoke in the interest of the common good, and everyone basically spoke for their own interest. What has NewUni learned?
Dr. Naibaf: I think it is obvious that we have learned from Paris-Saclay here! The NewUni partners also did not delegate powers to the central instance. Look at the organization of our Artificial Intelligence (AI) study programs alone: Polytechnique creates the graduate program in AI; Télécom ParisTech creates an adult education program in AI; ENSTA and Télécom ParisTech create a further education program in AI; ENSTA, Télécom ParisTech, and Télécom ParisSud create an AI option; and the future master’s program will certainly also offer a track in AI. Please don’t tell me that you can see any centralized organization here!
Fluctuat&Mergitur: We totally agree. What is the role of the lecturers and the staff in this process?
Dr. Naibaf: It is true that the only IT system so far that works across all institutes of NewUni was drawn up by a research engineer at Télécom ParisTech. The only public written proposal for the organization of the master programs so far comes from a research group. The only instance that regularly shares meeting notes is the student representative in the fortnightly meeting with the directorate of Télécom ParisTech. But these are fringe cases. The responsibility for the strategy, the vision, and the general lead is with the institutes, not the lecturers or the staff.
Fluctuat&Mergitur: That is reassuring indeed! We thank you for this interview!
Dr. Naibaf: It’s my pleasure! Next time, I can tell you how NewUni learned from ParisTech!