FRANCE: Sorbonne or not Sorbonne?

The question of who may, or should not, adopt the name of France's most celebrated university has been raised by Paris' chief education officer. Patrick Gérard has asked three institutions to "re-examine the question of the designation" of a higher education and research cluster they are jointly setting up which they propose to call La Sorbonne.

The three universities collaborating to form the cluster, or PRES (Pôle d'enseignement supérieur et de recherche), are Paris-2 Panthéon-Assas, Paris-4 Paris-Sorbonne, and Paris-6 Pierre-et-Marie-Curie. Earlier this month they had all approved the decision to create the 'Sorbonne PRES' as an association.

The main objective of the PRESs, introduced under legislation in 2006, is for higher education and research institutions within an area to group together to increase their international research impact.

Gérard, head of the capital's académie - the local administration of the state education system - and Chancellor of the Universities of Paris, said in a statement it was "difficult for the entire Paris university community to accept" this name because "all the universities of Paris are heirs of the Sorbonne".

Established in the 12th century, the Sorbonne was a single university until the 'events' of 1968 when student and worker protests and strikes nearly brought down the government. Consequent higher education reforms reorganised the universities into more democratic, independent institutions and split the Sorbonne into 13 universities, eight of them within Paris.

The Sorbonne appellation was retained by three inner-city universities. As well as Paris-4, they are Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and Paris-3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle.

Gérard said that Paris-1 and Paris-3, though bearing the Sorbonne name, did not form part of the cluster that the three universities were planning. "If the aim of the PRESs is to increase the international visibility of our universities, it would be confusing to give the designation 'La Sorbonne' to a PRES while two universities that are not members of this PRES also carry the name 'Sorbonne'.

In addition, Paris City Hall, the owner of the Sorbonne building, was opposed to the title being reserved for a single group of universities, said the statement.

Gérard has called on the presidents of Paris-2, Paris-4 and Paris-6 universities to reconsider the question calmly, "so the formation of the Parisian PRESs may appear as progress, not confusion".