We went to France today. We left in the morning by train to Strasbourg from Basel, Switzerland. It took a little over an hour to get there. We first visited the Universite de Strasbourg. There was an opening presentation on the University. It is by far the largest university we will visit with 42,000 students. They have 10 PhD programs with 2,500 students. They have 79 “research units” with three main areas: humanities; science and technology; and life and health studies. Next we had a presentation by the Vice President of Sciences and Society. His job is to promote scientific education and culture to the city of Strasbourg; bring science policy closer to citizens; and put responsible science at the heart of policy making. He oversees two departments to promote this: 1. socio-cultural life on campus- where they run exhibits, concerts, and cultural workshops on the campus; and 2. garden of sciences- where they reach out to high schools, have exhibits for the community, and museums on campus. They also hold a scientific conference once a week for the community during the academic school year.
Lastly we got to hear from the President. What an honor at such a large university to hear from Alain Beretz. Of course I was interested in teaching. So what I learned was that they have a Center for Pedagogy to train and help faculty in their teaching skills, where they have invested 800,000 Euros/ year. The faculty members have a 50% teaching and 50% research load. I also learned that grad students have a set of courses that they must take and there are courses offered in teaching and pedagogy. After his presentation, we had a lunch of wonderful sandwiches and finger foods. The president stayed and had lunch with us and answered more questions. I asked him if there was a reward system for excellence in teaching and there is nothing in place at this time. I asked him if a professor received poor evaluations, if there would be a consequence and he said that the professor would be spoken to by the Dean and it could be suggested that they may need to consult with the Center for Pedagogy for additional training. I ascertain that there is a certain expectation and that faculty are asked to rise to the occasion. He did mention in his presentation that Universite de Strasbourg is part of a “Program of Excellence” that includes 8 universities in France making up a jury representing 80 universities. Part of this program includes excellence in teaching, although it has not been implemented yet.
In the afternoon we visited a completely different type of school. It is a Grand Ecole entitled “Ecole Nationale d’Adminstraion” or L’ENA. It is a post-baccalaureate school to train students to work in the public service sector of France. From what I could understand, it is very prestigious and the biggest benefit is that after you graduate you are basically guaranteed a job. In fact if you finish first in your class, you basically have your pick of open jobs. Two French Presidents have studied at this school, possibly leading to the prestige. They take in 80 French students each year and 30 foreign students. You can enter the school in one of three ways. The first is going to a prep-college that prepared you to take the entrance exam- this accounts for 40 students. The second is by working 8 years in the private sector and then taking and passing the entrance exam- this accounts for 8 students. The third is for 4 years in the public sector and pass the exam- this accounts for 32 students. If you did not go to the prep school, you will have to study for a whole year full-time to pass the exam, which consists of topics such as law, economics and general knowledge. There is a written and oral portion. If you are a foreign student you must be a civil servant. This program would be ideal for those you are working in their embassy in France, because you learn all about the French system.
From there, we had dinner at Restaurant Gurtlerhoft. It was pouring rain and we had walked from L’ENA and briefly toured the beautiful cathedral in Strasbourg. The restaurant was open just for us in a building where parts dated back to medieval times. We had flat bread pizzas of all different types and an ice cream cake for dessert. The food was amazing as it has been each night. We then took the train back to Basel and crashed for the night.