From Jean-Pierre Nioche
Congratulation on your article, FRANCE: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité - but not yet. I am afraid, though, that the French concepts of "égalité" and "Grandes Ecoles" are not well understood.

The "Grandes Ecoles" (which mean "Great Schools") are not a creation of Napoléon even if this false statement is frequent. Creation of the GE began under the monarchy, was very strong during the French Revolution, stopped under Napoléon who, on the opposite, rebuildt the universities destroyed by the revolution, continued under the monarchy of the Restauration period, and developed again and again under the republican regime up to now.

The GE are not, by definition, expensive. Most of them (and the most prestigious one) are public with low tuition fees. Some are free and give a salary to their stutdents (ENA, ENS, Polytechnique, etc). And even those which are "expensive" are less expensive than a medium state university in the US.

The key to understand GE is to know their cultural root is what we call "meritocracy". This concept comes from the French Revolution: educate an elite selected on its merit, not on birth. It is still the case today.

It is of no use to be rich to enter a Polytechnique, ENA or HEC. The only thing you need to is to be good academically. The problem is that wealthy families have better means to prepare their children for the very selective exams for entry in GE.

To diversify the student origin is a real problem for GE because they are built on academic selection. Affirmative action as practised by Sciences Po (which is not a GE) is a threat to this principle of pure egalitarian academic selection, and is refused by all the GE.

They try to help disavantaged students prepare for their competitive exam. But in practice, affirmative action (quotas, special procedures, etc.) is considered contrary to the revolutionary principle: create an elite on the basis of merit.

Professor. Jean-Pierre Nioche,
Strategy consultant in higher education, Paris.