FRANCE: Jiao Tong rankings cause for concern

France's poor showing in the rankings underlined the absolute necessity to reform French higher education, said the Minister, Valérie Pécresse, who has the task of fulfilling President Nicolas Sarkozy's aim to make French universities internationally competitive by 2012. France has just three establishments in the top 100, one fewer than in 2007.

Jiao Tong ranked the University of Paris-6, Pierre et Marie Curie, 42nd, down three places from last year; Paris-11, Paris-Sud, was 49th, up three places; and the Ecole Normale Supérieure had climbed 10 places, to 73rd.

Pécresse is currently steering French institutions through controversial and ambitious reforms. The first 20 of France's 85 universities have just been granted increased powers under her autonomy law (see "First wave of autonomous universities", University World News, 3 August 2008); and 10 higher education and research federations have been selected for Operation Campus.

Under this Sarkozy initiative they will share EUR5 billion, intended to make them centres of excellence and position France among the highest ranking universities in the world.

Interviewed in Le Figaro, Pécresse said France "could not harvest the fruits of the reforms immediately", and that other countries such as Sweden, Germany and Britain had a start over France in the "world battle" of international league tables.

"The Shanghai ranking shows the absolute necessity to reform higher education in France: renovation of campuses, undergraduate studies in 2009, university autonomy. These measures are indispensable for giving France an international visibility and worldwide appeal."

She said a problem was that the rankings were mainly focused on research, "and not on the quality of teaching, excellent in France". There was a move to create a European ranking of universities that would "give value to this criterion". Another problem was that "the existence of research centres and grandes écoles does not appear in the Shanghai ranking", she said.