The GoodUni Proposals

This document is a list of proposals for making the Institut Polytechnique de Paris (IP Paris) competitive on the international level. The list takes inspiration from the GoodUni-articles of the blog “Fluctuat&Mergitur”, from discussions with the DIG team of Télécom Paris, and from a meeting on 2018-07-10 with the director of Télécom Paris, the director of research, the director of the INFRES department, and the head of the DIG team.

Not all proposals will appeal to all readers. But even if just some of the proposals are considered, the document will have achieved its purpose.

The previous form of this document (available here) is supported by the DIG team, as per vote on 2018-09-13. The current form of this document, dated 2019-10-18, uses the same text, but replaces “NewUni” by “IP Paris”, adds more illustrations, and makes minor modifications for clarity.

Preamble

GOAL
We want IP Paris to succeed, and we are committed to supporting the new institution.
INT
If IP Paris wants to succeed on the international level, then IP Paris has make its study programs, its research, and its organization competitive with the other international players. This cannot be done by just cosmetic changes. It requires a profound rethinking of the existing system, and it will require investment, courage, and sacrifices. We have to be ready to change our way of functioning, ready to plan for the long term, and ready to abandon what we previously held dear — with the ultimate goal of improving the common institution.

Organization

DEM
We believe that IP Paris should put in place a structure that governs the new university on the shared issues. The participants of this structure should be elected wherever possible. The structure should be transparent, and all councils should make public reports of their meetings within two weeks wherever possible. Crucially, this structure should be put in place before any decisions are taken. With this, we hope to avoid the inefficiency and frustration that were generated when Paris-Saclay started working without such a structure. For us, the important points are transparency and accountability: It has to be clear who takes a decision, and this decision has to be communicated.
MERGEAD
We believe that IP Paris offers the unique occasion to simplify the administrational structure of the partner schools: Administrational layers can be shared and thereby reduced. On the long run, we can imagine that the schools grow closer and closer, and share more and more, thereby reducing more and more complexity. We believe that the schools should give up their treasured identity in IP Paris on the long run. With this, we hope to avoid that IP Paris becomes another Paris-Saclay, IMT, or ParisTech.
QUIT
Current organization of Télécom Paris. Click to enlarge. See also Fluctuat&Mergitur article.
We believe that IP Paris can bring all the advantages that we were previously hoping to obtain from other structures (such as ParisTech, the IMT, Télécom Evolution, and Paris-Saclay itself). Therefore, we propose that the IP Paris schools should consider leaving these other structures. [Update: for ParisTech, this has indeed happened, but our school should still consider leaving the IMT and Télécom Evolution.] This is a heavy step. However, we cannot just always create new institutions. We also have to have the courage to abolish those that are no longer necessary. Such a step would reduce bureaucracy, free resources, and remove dependencies.
ONESTRUC
Currently, we have one structure for organizing research (the lab) and one structure for organizing the teaching and the research (the departments) inside each school. Each of these two structures has its own budget, council, and label. The structures also have seemingly competing competencies concerning research. We believe that this organization can be simplified. There should only be one council (at the level of the school), one shared budget (at the level of the school), and one label (that of the school, if at all, s.b.). As before, research would be coordinated by the director of research, teaching would be coordinated by a director of teaching, and the staff would be evaluated by the hierarchical superiors — just without a separate organizational structure or a separate budget for the different roles. Such a unification would remove complexity, and bring us in line with the other international universities, which do not have separate structures for research and teaching either.
HOUSE
To organize the interplay between the directors and the research groups, the hierarchical superiors and the directors could form an “upper house” (currently the CODIR). The research groups would elect group principals, which together would form a “lower house”. The modalities of interaction between the two houses would have to be discussed: Decisions could be taken by the upper house after consulting the lower house. Or a director could convene the lower house to take a decision together.
3LAYERS
We propose that the new university consists of just three layers (pictured on the right): Research teams, the school, and IP Paris. The research teams manage their own money. The school layer redistributes shared money, and makes hiring decisions. The schools could later evolve into faculties of IP Paris. Such a system would simplify the administration, and bring more transparency to the system. We are aware that this is a rather utopian vision. But we have to have a vision.
POS
In the context of the partner schools closing ranks, we believe that the lecturer positions across IP Paris should be harmonized and have the same opportunities and duties, no matter what school they belong to.

Infrastructure

BUR
We believe that an excessive bureaucracy is a real roadblock for an attractive and efficient working environment. If the administration of IP Paris is not efficient and well organized, we risk losing researchers and collaboration opportunities. Therefore, IP Paris should invest time and resources into reducing, streamlining, and improving its bureaucracy. Administrational processes should be automized, or at least digitalized, wherever possible. Paper forms should be abolished. Engineers should be hired to help with this reform.
INFRA
The current administration of students is too heavy: Too many tasks are done manually, and too many incompatible systems are involved. The Synapses team is working hard to improve the process, but we believe that we need more than punctual improvements. We need a bolder vision: IP Paris should put in place a single, shared digital infrastructure to manage grades, students, and courses across all schools of IP Paris. Crucially, this should happen before new students are admitted into joint programs. See the next point to learn how this could be accomplished.
SHEETS
Sample of email exchanges in Paris Saclay, click to enlarge.
We currently have to deal with a never-ending flow of requests to store, exchange, collect, update, and treat all types of data: grades, course schedules, course evaluations, lecturer names, etc. (pictured on the right, click to enlarge). Our general insight is that it is not possible to foresee each of these tasks, and to implement a system for each of them. Rather, we propose that IP Paris provides a generalist system, which can deal with tabular data in general. We think of a home-made version of Google Sheets, where each user can have read- and write rights for certain cells only. Such a system could be used not just to manage the grades of different labs, but also application opening dates, course evaluation modalities, course evaluations by students, hours per course, or indeed any type of tabular data. We have already implemented a prototype for such a system (called “FrugalSheets”), and a detailed case for the system is made here.

Teaching

MERGEMASTER
We believe that a master’s program that runs separate from the engineering programs is not viable, and not credible. We therefore propose that the core of the education at IP Paris should be shared 2-year master’s programs, and that the engineering programs should be merged into that program. The master's programs would be internal to IP Paris. Diploma students should then get both an engineering diploma and a master’s diploma. The students spend their first year in their school. In the second and third year, they enroll in the new master’s programs. They can still spend 2 days of the week (Thursday and Friday) in their home school, if this is necessary to keep the school profiles. External students enroll directly in the master's programs.
2YMS
Current landscape of educational programs at Télécom Paris. See Fluctuat&Mergitur article.
We believe that IP Paris should abandon the distinction between M1 and M2, and introduce contiguous 2-year programs. This will make IP Paris compatible with many other international universities, as well as with the Bologna Agreement. It will also allow an earlier, and thus a deeper specialization of the studies. Students, who, for legacy reasons, have to join in the M2, just do half the number of credits. This will greatly simplify the admission, the juries, and the organization of the program.
ECTS
We believe that the basic unit of teaching should be a course with a number of ECTS credits. All that students should have to do is to accumulate a certain number of ECTS during their master’s studies. Courses can have prerequisites, meaning that students are not allowed to take a course if they have not validated a course that is a prerequisite for it. Apart from this, students can take courses in any order they wish. The program consists just of a pool of courses with a partial order given by the prerequisites.
FIELDS
Our proposal for organizing a “mention”, click to enlarge.
We believe that it is not necessary to create what is currently known as a “parcours”. It is sufficient to create the “mention” (say, mathematics, computer science, and electrical engineering). Inside each “mention”, there are different thematic fields (say, “Data Sciences”, “Networks”, etc.). Every field contains a number of courses. Students have to take at least a certain percentage of their ECTS credits in one field of their choice (so as to specialize their education), and the rest in fields that are different from the main field (so as to broaden their education). This system would do away with the notion of “parcours”. It would allow us to easily accommodate the arrival or departure of a lecturer, the creation of a new course, and the migration of a course from the engineering diploma to the master’s program. It will also allow offering thematic fields that are too small to constitute a master’s program in their own right. If we want a PhD track, then the master’s thesis can take the form of a research project proposal. If the student validates the proposal, and passes the necessary coursework, she/he continues directly with the PhD. See a presentation about this model. [Update: The Mention Informatique is indeed heading in this direction.]
CAL
The problem, as identified by the Taskforce Harmonisation of Paris-Saclay.
We believe that all schools of IP Paris, and all study years, and all disciplines, should follow the same calendar. Individual programs can always deviate, but the default should be defined defined centrally. The advantages are manifold: These are the reasons why international universities usually have a central calendar.

A detailed argument for a shared calendar is here (“Bologna Talk”). A working group has proposed a shared calendar for every academic year for Paris-Saclay since 2016. However, this project cannot work without support from the institutions, and so far it has never had such support.

Research

VISI
We believe that having too many labels attached to a same institution has a significant negative effect on visibility. The effect is worse if the labels change over time (pictured are the affiliations of a single researcher of our school over the past 5 years).
International universities vary in the number of and structure of labels that they put on their papers. However, for visibility, we believe that the best option is to go with just one single label — both for publications and public appearances such as conference badges and others. Therefore, we believe that all schools of IP Paris should use “Institut Polytechnique” as their sole label.
Click here to see how international universities sign their papers. For reference, we list here how the top 10 universities in the world sign their publications in computer science (based on the sample of the most cited paper after 2005 of the most cited staff):
  • MIT: Just MIT: 2; MIT+center+institute: 1; just lab with MIT in name: 3; lab+MIT: 4
  • Stanford: department/lab+Stanford: 4; just Stanford: 1
  • Harvard: just Harvard: 3; program+institute+Harvard: 1; school+Harvard: 1
  • Caltech: department/lab+Caltech: 3; just Caltech: 2
  • Cambridge: just Cambridge: 2; group+lab+Cambridge: 1; department+Cambridge: 2
  • Oxford: department/lab+Oxford: 3; lab with Oxford in name: 2
  • University College London: department+UCL: 4; just UCL: 1
  • Imperial College London: department+ICL: 4; group+dep+ICL: 1
  • Chicago: department+Chicago: 5
  • ETH: institute/department+ETH: 3; group+department/institute+ETH: 2
COL
We believe that collaboration in research is not a goal in itself. Research does not become better just because it is a collaboration. If we give funding preference to projects that are collaborations, we pay the opportunity costs of not funding other projects that are maybe scientifically more reasonable. Therefore, collaboration should not be advertised as a goal, taken as a measure of success, or prioritized for funding. We also think that the researchers themselves are best placed to choose their collaborators if they need some. Therefore, IP Paris should not nudge people to collaborate with certain politically desired partners. IP Paris should just help researchers to get to know each other (through social events, seminars, and team visits), so that they can collaborate when they see the need.
We think that if we take the creation of IP Paris as an opportunity to put in place true reforms, then IP Paris has all the prerequisites to achieve the success it aspires.