Paris-Saclay campus debated in Nature

The newly created entity of the Paris-Saclay University is featuring in two editorials of Nature of 03 November for reaching a high ranking in one of the many league tables purportedly summarising the academic achievements of universities by a single number. This entity is made of the much older Université d’Orsay and of aggregated research institutes like Ecole Normale (formerly) de Cachan, Institut d’Optique, or Centrale Supélec, incidentally and uninterestingly located nearby my home. As an aggregate of high quality institutions, it is thus little surprise that it achieves a sufficient critical mass to reach a high ranking. Were the nearby Institut Polytechnique de Paris integrated as well, the ranking would have been even higher. (Why the two adjacent campuses did not merge defies rationality, but can be explained by politics and the long-standing opposition between Universités and Grandes Écoles in the French academic landscape.) I thus think the Nature editorial about the dangers to “the well-being of those on the academic front line” brought by the quest for high rankings is missing the point. By a fair margin. Indeed, it mixes the financial and institutional efforts made by [former president] Nicolas Sarkozy in creating a single campus with the funding of this mostly pre-existing campus [and in dire need of renovations, as exemplified by the new math department]. And seems to see the more competitive grant system in France connected with this creation when the [somewhat controversial] Agence Nationale de la Recherche in charge of the public-funded grants has been around since 2005. And I find that the unceasingly growing mille-feuille of aggregates, conglomerates, unions, initiatives, &tc. happening in the French academic landscape [like Paris Dauphine joining PSL a few years ago, whose status was confirmed today] are both blurring the picture and reducing the efficiency of the maneuvers by multiplying the administrative structures without creating a sense of belonging to a common institution. Plus ça change…

One Response to “Paris-Saclay campus debated in Nature”

  1. The quality of research at these institutions has not changed significantly these recent years. And yet the rankings have changed a lot after the merger. The fact that a merger can game the rankings that much demonstrates the vacuity of these rankings (and thence the vacuity of the mergers…).

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