Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Display:
How big are the Grand Ecoles? How many students do they produce each year?
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 04:30:54 PM EST
ENA is about 100 per year.

Polytechnique is about 500-550 per year (including 80-100 foreigners, many of them from Eastern Europe, these days. When I was there 15 years ago, it was 340, of which 30 foreigners, mostly from North Africa)

The engineering Grandes Ecoles have, I think, about 10-15,000 positions per year, and the business schools (Ecoles de Commerce) about the same again. So altogether, it's about 3-4 per cent of a generation.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 04:41:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hm, sounds rather conducive to a winner takes all mentality developing.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 05:04:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
During the written part of the exams, you'd have to keep your scientific calculator near you at all times. Some students would discretely smash calculators of people looking in the wrong direction.

Frankly I hated prépa. The worst time of my life. But I do recognize that it teaches you a sense of organisation.

Another problem with prépas is that you work so hard to get into a Grande Ecole, that when you make it there your work motivation goes down (you feel like you've reached an El Dorado of sorts). In University the system is smarter ... you work harder as you go along, each step of the way.

by Alex in Toulouse on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 05:15:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, that too, but I meant later on, in society as a whole. If you really think you are in the top 3%, you are likely to dissociate from the rest of society. You have no link to the rest.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 05:19:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very true, and it's exactly what happens. People I knew turned all snotty when they integrated some of the prestigious schools.

Amusingly too, the two friends of mine that currently make the most money (some 10 years after prépa, 7-8 years after having graduated from a Grand Ecole) are:

  • 1 guy who was a heavy pot smoker in prépa and who barely managed to get into the lousiest of Engineering schools, ENSI Papet' (engineering school specialised in paper), and who is now a director in this huge press syndicate, making huge bucks. Earning a lot more than those of our friends who've been to the best Grandes Ecoles.

  • 1 guy who went to the same school I did (but the telecom one, not the managerial one), a very bright and lazy student ... who after our school lazily wrote a thesis in AI over a period of 3 years, which is considered a long time in the dynamic world of IT ... who then spent some time trying to write a sports lottery guessing AI software, and who after that wrote cheating software to earn money from porno websites ... well this guy bought an internet domain name with a diacritic before these were supported, and that name is basically "download.com" in French, but with a diacritic. And now that diacritics are supported, because of this single diacritic, his website receives huge amounts of visitors who believe they're going to the website without the diacritic. Just from commercial income alone, he makes something like 30 000 euros a month and spends all his time on the beach or skiing. His investment (domain name purchase and basic hosting) cost him 20 euros!

My question is:

If Number 1 went to the lousiest Grande Ecole but earns more than those that went to the best, and if Number 2 earns heaps more than those that went to the best while working 0 hours per day, then doesn't this mean that the system failed for number 1 and ended up being useless for number 2?

by Alex in Toulouse on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 05:31:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
See, to me, it's not about that.

I do harbour some suspicions that most of the Grande Ecoles grads I have met are not that special, but then I went somewhere that can be accused of the same issue, so we'll leave that on one side for a moment.

The real issue for me is that overall, it's true, if you went to a Grande Ecole you will be fairly useful.

What's problematic is the attitude that others are certainly less useful. The evidence of reality is that the average GE grad is not better than the top grad from other schools.

But, no-one in society can assimilate that and so some problems occur:

  1. Groupthink at the top. This is especially dangerous in politics.

  2. A sense of entitlement in this 3% which leads to looting.

  3. A dreadful waste of medium-high level talent that didn't go to a GE. The result is that the top level of society peforms well and the rest underperforms.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:19:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are two issues, I think

  • the groupthink, and snottiness at the top. This applies to only 1% of the initial top 1%, or less, so it's a problem quite specific to the very top. And some of the people there are stunningly brilliant people. But it's an issue if these small groups are not able to police themselves

  • the average GE graduate is not that snotty and cut off. In France, you have a clear distinction between engineers and techniciens, with different diplomas. Both categories are those with the lowest unemployment rate (the guys with 2 or 3 year technical diplomas do better than those with graduate and post graduate diplomas) and they work together well becuase they have different functions. All "engineers" come from a GE, and both the title and the qualification mean something specific.


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:28:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, clearly I don't have enough experience in France to offer useful counterpoints in the workplace.

In politics however, I would suggest to you that it is fairly clear that the system does produce various levels of groupthink. (The situation is just as bad in the UK, so this is not French-bashing.)

Since Agnes is not here to do so, I guess it falls to me to make the provocative comment. :-)

I am not sure you've made yourself neutral to the system you went through, perhaps it would be more productive for you to analyse the weaknesses of another system instead?

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:47:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am neutral to some extent, for a few reasons:

  • having done Polytechnique, I can safely critique it without beeing accused of sour grapes; I can also say nice (and true) things about it;

  • having done an unusual post graduate diploma (my economics/international politics PhD), I left the system at that time and am seen partly as an outsider (the strange guy who spent 3 years to get a nextra diploma worth less than the one he already had) - I also had little interaction with my alumni for a number of years;

  • as I don't use the alumni network at all, and as I have a very specialised job for which I don't need it, I don't really care for it (I may need to eat these words in the future, but the fact is that I wouldn't even know how to use it);

  • it's also my job to analyse political risk dispassionately...


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:58:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How to answer this without seeming rude?

Maybe someone wiser than me can do so.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 07:15:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"I hate it when someone matter-of-factly says 'I'm right' and actually is"?

or did you have something else in mind? ;-)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 05:52:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think afew pointed out the flaws in your conception better than I could already.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 06:21:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll add:

You should read what he wrote, your own response and then consider how little the response you wrote goes with the attitude you evince in a lot of the other comments. Apply some of your own deconstruction to yourself.

And look, I am getting rude already. Enough.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 06:27:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I take rude better than implied (because I'm never sure what's implied), so just lay it all out.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 06:54:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your reasoning can be read as:

  • 1 - those who haven't done Polytechnique aren't entitled to "safely" criticise it*, because (I could say) they are a bunch of envious persons... So I can criticize it because I'm part of it.

  • 2 - But I'm not really part of it because:

  • 2.1 - I followed a different path than the usual one...

  • 2.2 - I do not socialise with my ex-(grande)schoolmates...

 *(accordingly, only a cardinal-archbishop can criticise the Catholic Church)

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 07:36:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. Well, when the criticism is "it's unfair that only archbishops have the power", the argument that those that made that criticism are just jealous or are unhappy that they don't have power does have weight. It's not criticising the Catholic Church, it's criticising the power of the bishops. And yes, such arguments have more weight when coming from an archbishop than from an outsider. All I'm saying is that it does have that weight in my case.

  2. was to explain why I may have a somewhat outsider's look on the whole thing, and thus a modicum of objectivity on the topic.

But I'm possibly blinded in ways I don't even realisze.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 07:55:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...when the criticism is "it's unfair that only archbishops have the power", the argument that those that made that criticism are just jealous or are unhappy that they don't have power does have weight.

Be careful, this kind of argument is too easily used by those in power or close to it. To illustrate what I mean, I will use reductio ad absurdum with your sentence:

"when the criticism is "it's unfair that only the aristocrats/the military junta members/ the nomenklatura have the power", the argument that those that made that criticism are just jealous or are unhappy that they don't have power does have weight...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 08:25:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
that's true as well, of course.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 26th, 2006 at 10:11:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's an hypothesis which is neither necessary, not sufficient... (to smoke pot to succeed, or to work very little to earn lots of money)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:21:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
During the written part of the exams, you'd have to keep your scientific calculator near you at all times. Some students would discretely smash calculators of people looking in the wrong direction.
Fuckers.

I've never been competitive, but maybe that's because I was smart enough to be at the top without being cut-throat, and also having a comfortable middle class background helped in that I didn't feel that doing less than perfectly would be a problem for the future. (When your study depends on grants and your grants depend on performance, life is very different)

One of my close friends was, like me, in the Physics and Mathematics Olympiads. Apparently he was taught by some professors who coached him that he needed to come out of each test bragging about how fantastically well he had done so as to discourage the competition. I find such tactics despicable, even if they work.

Myself, I never had any problem with being honest about how well (or badly) I had done. When I won the Spanish Physics Olympiad [it's been all downhill from there] I thought I had done so-so in the tests, but as it turns out I actually predicted my total score to within 5 points (out of 50) and it ended up being the highest score. So, better to be honest and know where you stand than be dishonest.

My friend is on track for a successful career as a research mathematician; I'm not (no small disappointment), but I make decent money.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:15:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm genunely surprised by that "calculator" comment. I never saw that in the scientific classes préparatoires, nor even heard a story of that kind. It was very competitive, but also very honest. Maybe this is linked to the business schools (prépa HEC)?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:19:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well it could come down to the following simplistic characterisation: Maths Sup is a big family, HEC is a gladiator fight. Something to do with laboratory geeks on one hand, and business tycoons on the other hand.

The calculator event comes from the Lycée de Fermat (where I sat for the exams). We were warned by teachers that this had happened in the past and to stay alert (and report anyone interfering with our exam basically).

by Alex in Toulouse on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:28:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My impression is that engineering GE students were much more likely to be lefties than business school students, which makes sense. (They are also a lot geekier, no surprise)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:29:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One very nice thing about the engineering GEs, is that apart from Mines/Centrale which we have to consider seperately, the ENSIs are all so specialised that good students and not-as-good students can be seperated by specialisation rather than only by prestige.

ie. the best students get the most "trendy" specialisations (aeronautics...), while the worst students get the least "trendy" ones (paper), and like I pointed out with the example of my friend above, paper is just another specialisation, it doesn't make you any less of an engineer than an electronics one. Thus even if the "paper" school is less prestigious, it won't be a problem because you'll only be competing against paper specialists anyways.

This doesn't exist in HEC ... mainly because the school I went to is one of very few public schools (I think there are only two). All the others are private which means that students are discriminated upon by business prestige alone (ie by a school's budget and its lobbying relations, more than by any specialisation).

Sorry I'm tired, I don't know if I'm making any sense here.

by Alex in Toulouse on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:39:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It makes sense to me. My experience is that most GE engineers are competent and up to the tasks expected of young engineers. Some are faster than others or able to see the big picture more easily, so there are differences, but all are valued by French and foreign companies alike.

Over and out for tonight.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:51:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some co-grads of mine attended Henri IV and Louis le Grand, and from what the anecdotes they related, the Math Sup-Math spé sections at Henri IV and Louis le Grand were not prettier than the HEC ones.
My prépa HEC section was friendly and people were helping each other, the environment was really good. But they really seldom had someone into the top three Paris Business schools.
I think it has more to do with the prestige of the prép class itself than the section.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Mon Mar 27th, 2006 at 03:12:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Display:

Occasional Series