Archive for Orsay

[ex?] Paris-Saclay univerXity

Posted in Kids, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2017 by xi'an

In the plane to Warwick last Tuesday, I read a fairly long and pessimistic article in Le Monde about the future of the Paris-Saclay university. This debate presumably makes no sense outside French circles, for it relates to the century-old opposition between universities and grandes écoles, these selective engineering and business schools that operate independently from the university structure. In the sense that the selection and the schooling of their students is completely separated, meaning these students may never attend a university program if they choose to do so. But not so independently in terms of hiring part-time professors from universities and sharing resources for their Master programs. And depending on the same agencies (like CNRS) for funding their research program.

Anyway, the core message of this article was that the influence of former students from Polytechnique [aka X] in the high administration is such that they can prevent the integration of the different engineer schools on the Saclay plateau into the intended superstructure of the Paris-Saclay university. And turn this somewhat megalomanic Paris-Saclay project initiated by Nicolas Sarkozy into a mere geographical superposition of separate institutions, with very unequal State funding, perpetuating the two speed regime for public higher education… And a ever more confusing international image that will not help an inch moving up the Shanghai ranking (a major reason for Sarkozy pushing this project). Very French indeed!

Cédric Villani elected

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on June 19, 2017 by xi'an

the French MIT? not so fast…

Posted in Kids, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , on February 20, 2017 by xi'an

Gare de Sceaux, May 25, 2012A news report last weekend on Nature webpage about the new science super-campus south of Paris connected with my impressions of the whole endeavour: the annual report from the Court of Auditors estimated that the 5 billion euros invested in this construct were not exactly a clever use of public [French taxpayer] money! This notion to bring a large number of [State] engineer and scientific schools from downtown Paris to the plateau of Saclay, about 25km south-west of Paris, around École Polytechnique, had some appeal, since these were and are prestigious institutions, most with highly selective entry exams, and with similar training programs, now that they have almost completely lost the specialisation that justified their parallel existences! And since a genuine university, Paris 11 Orsay, stood nearby at the bottom of the plateau. Plus, a host of startups and research branches of companies. Hence the concept of a French MIT.

However, as so often the case in Jacobin France, the move has been decided and supported by the State “top-down” rather than by the original institutions themselves. Including a big push by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010. While the campus can be reached by public transportation like RER, the appeal of living and working on the campus is obviously less appealing to both students and staff than in a listed building in the centre of Paris. Especially when lodging and living infrastructures are yet to be completed. But the main issue is that the fragmentation of those schools, labs and institutes, in terms of leadership, recruiting, research, and leadership, has not been solved by the move, each entity remaining strongly attached to its identity, degree, networks, &tc., and definitely unwilling to merge into a super-university with a more efficient organisation of teaching and research. Which means the overall structure as such is close to invisible at the international level. This is the point raised by the State auditors. And perceived by the State which threatens to cut funding at this late stage!

This is not the only example within French higher educations institutions since most have been forced to merged into incomprehensible super-units under the same financial threat. Like Paris-Dauphine being now part of the PSL (Paris Sciences et Lettres) heterogeneous conglomerate. (I suspect one of the primary reasons for this push by central authorities was to create larger entities towards moving up in the international university rankings, which is absurd for many reasons, from the limited worth of such rankings, to the lag between the creation of a new entity and the appearance on an international university ranking, to the difficulty in ranking researchers from such institutions: in Paris-Dauphine, the address to put on papers is more than a line long, with half a dozen acronyms!)

life and death along the RER B, minus approximations

Posted in Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2015 by xi'an

viemortrerbWhile cooking for a late Sunday lunch today [sweet-potatoes röstis], I was listening as usual to the French Public Radio (France Inter) and at some point heard the short [10mn] Périphéries that gives every weekend an insight on the suburbs [on the “other side’ of the Parisian Périphérique boulevard]. The idea proposed by a geographer from Montpellier, Emmanuel Vigneron, was to point out the health inequalities between the wealthy 5th arrondissement of Paris and the not-so-far-away suburbs, by following the RER B train line from Luxembourg to La Plaine-Stade de France…

The disparities between the heart of Paris and some suburbs are numerous and massive, actually the more one gets away from the lifeline represented by the RER A and RER B train lines, so far from me the idea of negating this opposition, but the presentation made during those 10 minutes of Périphéries was quite approximative in statistical terms. For instance, the mortality rate in La Plaine is 30% higher than the mortality rate in Luxembourg and this was translated into the chances for a given individual from La Plaine to die in the coming year are 30% higher than if he [or she] lives in Luxembourg. Then a few minutes later the chances for a given individual from Luxembourg to die are 30% lower than he [or she] lives in La Plaine…. Reading from the above map, it appears that the reference is the mortality rate for the Greater Paris. (Those are 2010 figures.) This opposition that Vigneron attributes to a different access to health facilities, like the number of medical general practitioners per inhabitant, does not account for the huge socio-demographic differences between both places, for instance the much younger and maybe larger population in suburbs like La Plaine. And for other confounding factors: see, e.g., the equally large difference between the neighbouring stations of Luxembourg and Saint-Michel. There is no socio-demographic difference and the accessibility of health services is about the same. Or the similar opposition between the southern suburban stops of Bagneux and [my local] Bourg-la-Reine, with the same access to health services… Or yet again the massive decrease in the Yvette valley near Orsay. The analysis is thus statistically poor and somewhat ideologically biased in that I am unsure the data discussed during this radio show tells us much more than the sad fact that suburbs with less favoured populations show a higher mortality rate.

talk in Orsay (message in a beetle)

Posted in Kids, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2014 by xi'an

IMG_0161Yesterday (March 27), I gave a seminar at Paris-Sud University, Orsay, in the stats department, on ABC model choice. It was an opportunity to talk about recent advances we have made with Jean-Michel Marin and Pierre Pudlo on using machine-learning devices to improve ABC. (More to come soon!) And to chat with Gilles Celeux about machine learning and classification. Actually, given that one of my examples was about the Asian lady beetle invasion and that the buildings of the Paris-Sud University have suffered from this invasion, I should have advertised the talk with the more catchy title of “message in a beetle”…

This seminar was also an opportunity to experiment with mixed transportation. Indeed, since I had some errands to run in Paris in morning I decided to bike there (in Paris), work at CREST, and then take my bike in the RER train down to Orsay as I did not have the time and leisure to bike all the 20k there. Since it was the middle of the day, the carriage was mostly empty and I managed to type a blog entry without having to worry about the bike being a nuisance…. The only drag was to enter the platform in Paris (Cité Universitaire) as there was no clear access for bike. Fortunately, a student kindly helped me to get over the gate with my bike, as I could not manage on my own… Nonetheless, I will certainly repeat the experience on my next trip to Orsay (but would not dare take the bike inside/under Paris per se because of the (over-)crowded carriages there).