One of France’s most respected higher education institutions is introducing its first undergraduate program, in addition to five postgraduate programs, in order to attract more international students.

École Polytechnique, located just south of Paris, has been finding it difficult to market its courses to foreign students, despite the institution’s well-regarded international reputation, particularly its flagship program, the ‘Ingénieur polytechnicien’, a unique four-year engineering course.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, the school’s vice-president of academic affairs and research, Frank Pacard, said there were several reasons behind the course’s lack of popularity outside of France.

“The program is designed in such a way that it is hard to ‘sell it’ to international students. In the core program, it’s very difficult to explain to foreign students what is inside the program because it doesn’t match international standards, but also everything is taught in French,” he explained.

“We realized that by keeping only this program we miss a lot of talented international students. We need to adapt to the fact that there is a need [from students to travel]. Even in the U.S., more and more students want to have some education experience abroad,” added Pacard.

According to Pacard, another factor that discouraged international students from pursuing their studies in France was the country’s complicated system in order to be accepted at one of its ‘grandes écoles’, or institutions that were set up outside the main framework of the French university system.

Students are only accepted into a ‘grandes école’ after completing two years of dedicated preparatory classes (‘classes préparatoires’ or ‘prépas’) and a competitive entrance exam.

However, with the new English-taught programs, students are not required to undergo preparatory classes, though they will include science, humanities, management, and sports in the curricula.

The undergraduate program will mainly focus on mathematics, while the graduate courses range from electronics and communications to the environment and big data.

‘Grandes écoles’ traditionally have a small student cohort per intake, numbering in the hundreds, which was why Pacard mentioned that the school was not trying to compete with larger public universities, but was only trying to offer overseas students more options.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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