NYT reports on French government attempts to diversify the student body at the country’s grandes ecoles. The whole grandes ecoles system is still a bit weird for me–the idea of extremely talented and qualified people wanting to become bureaucrats runs opposite to the way things work in America, where boring, uncreative hacks who wear short-sleeve button-downs and crave job security comprise the majority of bureaucrats. This article is fascinating because French revolutionary ideals are still strong enough that the French don’t even count demographic data on things like race or religion. How can you tinker with a system that meritocratic and color/creed blind and not destroy the it?Unfortunately, this article left me with more questions than before I read it. For one thing, the goal is apparently a population of 30% scholarship students at the grandes ecoles. There’s never an explanation of the fee structure at the schools, which would have been interesting since post-secondary education in the EU tends to be darn near free and I don’t entirely know why students would require scholarships.
There’s also never an explanation of whether schools are being to told to opt for scholarship students over non-scholarship students when the qualifications are the same, or if they are being told to opt for less qualified scholarship students over more qualified non-scholarship students just to meet the goal percentage. All that is mentioned is how some grandes ecoles are trying to encourage prep schools to take in more scholarship students so that these students will in turn be more likely to gain admittance to a grande ecole. That leads me to believe what France is aiming for is the former: choosing scholarship over non-scholarship when qualifications are the same.
I don’t have a huge problem with that policy. I think it’s a bit unfair to think that just because someone comes from a poor background they will add more diversity to the student body than a rich kid who taught herself Old Norse and worked on excavations at a Roman amphitheater. But at least it’s not affirmative action.
What I do have a huge problem with is this quote:
Oualid Fakkir, 23, who is graduating with a master’s in finance, said, “It’s very dangerous for France to close its eyes and say, ‘Equality. We have the best values in the world.’ It’s not enough. There has to also be equality of chances.”
How is giving everyone who wants the chance to take the same exam and matriculate at a grande ecole not ‘equality of chances?’ I gather that some critics think the system is self-reinforcing because grande ecole grads get good jobs and then pay for their kids to get good training and opportunities so they, too, can go become bureaucrats, but there is nothing to stop a legion of lower-class geniuses from studying their butts off and beating the rich kids at their own game. Perhaps the probability is low, but that low probability is much less of a danger to the French system than this guy, calling for what is not really ‘equality of chances’ but really equality of outcome.