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Franco-British Academic Partnerships: The Next ChapterThe Next Chapter$

Philippe Lane and Maurice Fraser

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781846316630

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.5949/UPO9781846316777

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Why is the United Kingdom Important to Sciences Po?

Why is the United Kingdom Important to Sciences Po?

(p.3) 1 Why is the United Kingdom Important to Sciences Po?
Franco-British Academic Partnerships: The Next Chapter

Francis Vérillaud

Agueda Perez Muñoz

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Sciences Po is an institution that has been one of the pioneers of internationalisation in France. This chapter focuses on what Sciences Po's international strategy has been with regard to recruiting graduates in the United Kingdom. It also describes Sciences Po's collaboration with the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Oxford University, which lie at the heart of its international strategy.

Keywords:   Sciences Po, internationalisation, France, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE, Oxford University


If one were to describe the main trends of the last decade in higher education across the world, ‘internationalisation’ would most likely be one the first words to come to mind. Over the last 10 years universities have devoted significant human and financial resources to the ‘globalisation’ of their institutions. As a result, one would be hard pressed to find a major university today that has not set out an international strategy for itself, though the content, breadth and implementation of these strategies vary widely from one institution to another, as do the resources that are invested in them. However varied the implementation of strategy, though, the rationale for internationalisation is similar for all institutions.

The first incentive is that of attracting the best students and the best staff worldwide. With students increasingly seeking to study in a country other than their own, universities are in fierce competition for the best of them. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2000 there were 1.6 million students in OECD countries who were not studying in their country of origin. In 2007 that number had risen to 2.5 million, an increase of 56 per cent in only seven years.1 Similarly, though no equally reliable statistics are available, the academic job market is increasingly international and top-ranking universities all boast a multinational research community.

Another motivation is to train globally literate citizens who will be highly sought after for employment. Both the public and private sectors have a high demand for graduates who are able to understand the interaction between local, national and international developments and who can operate in multicultural environments. By adapting their curricula to these needs and by providing an ‘international experience’ for their students, universities increase the employability of their graduates. They (p.4) also ensure that their curricula are easily approachable and understandable by potential applicants and other institutions of higher education, thus giving them an advantage in international competition.

A third incentive, which is rarely explicitly mentioned but is nonetheless central to the drive for internationalisation, is an economic one. For those countries that attract large numbers of foreign students, education is becoming a significant export. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) estimates that, in the United Kingdom, the total net injection into the economy by international students in 2004–05 was around £3.74 billion.2 This makes higher education a more significant export than important British industries such as textiles, clothing, publishing and cultural and media industries. Universities that are not entirely publicly funded are the first to benefit from this, through foreign students' tuition fees, which are becoming crucial in their budgetary balance.

There are clearly powerful motivations for universities to internationalise and there is little disagreement on the need to implement changes in this direction. There are questions, however, about what these changes should be. Within higher education, internationalisation is relatively new and so there are no clear role models or easy guidelines to follow in order to achieve it; neither is there clear agreement on what internationalisation should really comprise. It is also regularly pointed out by scholars of the subject that while universities all claim to be internationalising, there are doubts about how real this is.

In this context our own institution, Sciences Po, might serve as an interesting example of an institution with a fully fledged internationalization process. Sciences Po has been one of the pioneers of internationalisation in France and with 42 per cent of its student body composed of international students it can be considered a successful model. This chapter focuses on what Sciences Po's international strategy has been with regard to the United Kingdom (for both historical and strategic reasons, the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of this strategy). The chapter examines how and why the United Kingdom has been at the heart of Sciences Po's international development and shows how a strategic partnership with the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) is the centrepiece of this development.

Why Is the United Kingdom Important to Us?

Perhaps the boldest move towards international integration at Sciences Po came in 2000, when it was decided that all undergraduate students would compulsorily spend a year abroad. At the time this was met with (p.5) at best a lukewarm response and at worse outright hostility by students, who were not quite sure what this would bring them. Ten years later this has become one of Sciences Po's strongest selling points and applicants often mention the year abroad as one of their reasons for applying. Indeed, one factor in this success is the way students themselves have publicised the experience. Those coming back from a year abroad consistently describe it as one of the best years of their lives. The experience of a different academic system, the possibility of learning a new language, the skills learnt by adapting to a new country, the new professional opportunities that open up to them and the personal growth that results from being outside their comfort zone are all reasons students give for why the year abroad is essential to them. It is these same students who are the best possible advertisement for Sciences Po abroad. With a network of more than 300 universities, we also receive students from across the world, which contributes to making Sciences Po an international university. Indeed, this means that students have to learn from their very first day to work in a multicultural and multilingual environment; it also forces the institution constantly to adapt its curricula to an international audience. Moreover, exchange students at Sciences Po often go on to study at Sciences Po at graduate level, which means that the ‘study abroad’ scheme also serves as a powerful international recruitment tool.

The United Kingdom was instrumental in launching the ‘study abroad’ scheme and remains one of the most attractive countries for our students. Between 2006 and 2010, the number of Sciences Po students choosing the United Kingdom as their ‘study abroad’ destination almost doubled. More than a third of those of our students who chose a European destination chose a British university, which makes the United Kingdom our most important European partner. This is in line with the general context of Franco-British university cooperation. According to the British Council, France is the most attractive country for British students wishing to participate in the Erasmus scheme, and according to its French counterpart, the Agence 2e2f, the United Kingdom is the second most attractive country for French students, after Spain. Despite this mutual attraction, there are twice as many French students going on an Erasmus exchange to the United Kingdom (4400 for the year 2008–09) as there are British students going to France (2146 for the same year).3 This has not been the case at Sciences Po, where exchanges have always been fairly balanced and for three of the last five years when there has been an imbalance it has been in the opposite direction. There are two main reasons for this success. The first is that Sciences Po is today a completely bilingual school; it expects its students to master (p.6) both French and English by the end of their studies and as a result it offers a wide range of courses taught in English. This eliminates the language barrier for British exchange students who wish to study at Sciences Po, while giving them an opportunity to improve their French if they wish to do so. The second reason is that Sciences Po has significantly developed its student services, especially those that are devoted to international students. Thus, exchange students have specific contacts within the institution that can help them with administrative as well as academic issues and can facilitate the link with their home institution.

Though making the year abroad a compulsory element of a degree is perhaps not an option for all universities, Sciences Po's experience does suggest that it can be a viable and positive one. It also shows that if the right environment is provided, it is possible to attract significant numbers of exchange students. In the academic year 2009–10 alone, Sciences Po welcomed 1248 exchange students into its classrooms.

Exchanges are the simplest form of student mobility but what institutions are most interested in are degree-seeking students. With students increasingly considering studying abroad, even at undergraduate level, there is a real international market for degrees. This means that universities are in direct competition with their counterparts all over the world for the best students. As a result, over the last 10 years or more, Sciences Po has developed its human resources in order to meet its recruitment needs at an international level. It now boasts a team of specialists for each region of the world who are responsible for recruiting students directly at their home institutions, whether they are secondary schools or universities. The choice has been made to give priority to recruiters who have a real understanding of the country's specificities rather than those who are just good promoters. The idea behind this is that, in order for an institution of higher education to internationalise, it has to recognise local differences and adapt to them. A uniform solution with a standardised recruitment strategy is not suited to those institutions that wish to be internationally competitive.

Sciences Po has been recruiting graduates in the United Kingdom for a number of years. As a result, British students are the fifth largest group of international applicants to Sciences Po's master's degrees. In and of itself this means that the United Kingdom is one of the most important countries for Sciences Po's international recruitment. However, there is another reason why the country is crucial for the institution to get the best students. The United Kingdom is the second most attractive country for international students who are not studying in their country of origin. With 11.6 per cent of these students choosing a British university as their destination, it is second only to the United States.4 Thus, when Sciences Po recruits in a British university it is not restricting (p.7) itself to national students but is recruiting from a broad spectrum of nationalities. This is reflected in the fact that graduates of British universities are the second largest group of applicants to Sciences Po after those of American universities. Part of the explanation for this Franco-British attraction lies in the fact that Sciences Po benefits from a ‘European appeal’ for both European and non-European students. Indeed, students are attracted by the possibility of gaining a European expertise by having studied in two of the biggest European countries in terms of gross domestic product. It also gives them access to two of the biggest European job markets and gives them an expertise that they can use to their competitive advantage in their home country or elsewhere. As for Sciences Po, these applicants are exactly the kind of students that it wishes to attract, for two reasons: on one hand, it furthers the employability of its students, because public and private institutions see Sciences Po as a breeding ground for this highly sought-after international profile; on the other, these students bring the international input that Sciences Po seeks to infuse in all its courses.

More recently, Sciences Po has also started recruiting in British schools for its undergraduate degrees (until the academic year 2009–10, Sciences Po did not offer an undergraduate degree). The schools targeted have included traditional public and state schools as well as those offering the International Baccalaureate, the European Baccalaureate or examinations such as the Abitur or the French Baccalaureate. As with universities, Sciences Po seeks to develop long-term partnerships with a number of selected secondary schools. After the first recruitment drive, students of British secondary schools were the seventh largest group of international applicants at undergraduate level. This suggests that the United Kingdom will become as important to our undergraduate recruitment as it is already at graduate level.

A field where the United Kingdom has played an important role for a long time at Sciences Po is research. Contacts between Sciences Po faculty and their British counterparts have flourished over the years. In recognition of these research links across the Channel, Sciences Po decided in 2002 to create the Vincent Wright Chair. This offers every year a visiting position to an academic from a British university. The objective is either to create new links between relevant Sciences Po research centres and the visiting academic, or to enable someone who already has some links with Sciences Po to develop them further. The scheme has been met with growing interest in the United Kingdom. While in the first years applications came mainly from institutions with established relations with Sciences Po, this has not been the case more recently: applications now span a wide range of departments and institutions with no previous links. In this way, the Vincent Wright Chair serves as a powerful tool for creating and developing research links with the United Kingdom.

There are two universities with which our collaboration extends further, with more formalised research agreements. The first is the LSE, (p.8) with which we have a privileged partnership and have chosen to collaborate closely at all levels, including research. We go into more depth on this collaboration in the next section. The second institution is Oxford University, with which we created in 2005 a European Research Group. This first research agreement involved Oxford University's Departments of Politics and International Relations and of Sociology, the Maison Française d'Oxford, Sciences Po's sociology and political sciences research centres and the Centre d'études et de Recherches Internationales (CNRS) at Sciences Po. In January 2009 the CNRS disengaged from the group and a new agreement was signed in continuity with the original agreement that created the Oxford–Sciences Po Research Group in the Social Sciences (OXPO). OXPO is a meeting point for social sciences scholars at both institutions who work on the comparative analysis of the transformation of political systems and societies, in Europe and beyond. The group finances joint research projects as well as joint seminars. It also gives the opportunity to doctoral and postdoctoral students to spend a year at the other institution to further their research. Moreover, Nuffield College, Oxford, hosts a visiting fellow from Sciences Po every term and in return Sciences Po offers visiting research professorships to Oxford University academics. Scholars at both centres cover practically all aspects of the transformation of political systems and societies, and therefore make possible the formation of assorted research teams on any given question. Special emphasis is placed on complementary knowledge of French and British circumstances, but without restricting the work to comparisons between them. The success of this research group at both institutions shows that there are real complementarities and an interest in Franco-British research. This confirms that research linkages in the field of social sciences between British universities and Sciences Po can be extremely rewarding for both sides.

In the introduction, we described the recruitment of international teachers and researchers as one of the main aims of internationalisation. In this respect, the French academic job market remains difficult to integrate, compared with some of its European neighbours. One of the reasons for this is the extreme complexity of the different types of job that are on offer. For this reason, in 2009, Sciences Po decided to launch an international recruitment drive, with 30 new openings divided between all its departments. The positions created have internationally competitive remuneration packages but, more importantly, the contracts and the career development opportunities within Sciences Po have been standardised in order to be easily understood by an international audience. The positions on offer can broadly be understood as fitting into a ‘tenure track’ system. The recruitment process is similar to what can be found in leading universities across the world (it involves, for example, job talks as part of the recruitment process, which have not traditionally been used in French universities) and the successful candidate signs a contract directly with Sciences Po, which offers greater flexibility (p.9) than the public contracts that French academics traditionally sign. Understandably, given British universities' reputation for excellence in social sciences research, their scholars have been one of the main targets for Sciences Po. The first recruitment drive was successful in the United Kingdom and, to take only one example, the economics department recruited academics from two of the best Economics Departments in the country, University College London and the London Business School.

The final reason why the United Kingdom is important for Sciences Po is its alumni network in the country, the second largest outside France. With one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, a thriving job market for graduates and its proximity to France, the United Kingdom is one of the most appealing countries for employment after graduation. Moreover, London, alongside Brussels, Berlin and New York, accounts for the majority of our students' internships before completion of their degrees. As a result, Sciences Po Alumni UK, the British chapter of our alumni association, is one of our most active and developed. It plays an essential role for Sciences Po students by facilitating contact between older alumni, new graduates and current students. One of its most successful events is the Sciences Po Wednesday, which takes place every first Wednesday of the month, and attracts a wide range of Sciences Po alumni eager to network and learn about possible professional opportunities. It also hosts a series of conferences that feature prestigious speakers, often famous alumni, which bring together Sciences Po's community to discuss a social sciences topic.5 These events contribute significantly to fostering, developing and maintaining alumnis' links to their alma mater.

As a result of this success, Sciences Po Alumni UK created a Charity Trust in 2008, which holds a big gala every year. The aim of the gala is to help Sciences Po in its fundraising efforts in order to finance Sciences Po's Franco-British initiatives. The Charity Trust is Sciences Po's biggest alumni donator outside of France, alongside Sciences Po Alumni USA. It plays a crucial role in Sciences Po's efforts to maximise its own resources and in particular it contributes significantly to the university's financial aid scheme. Sciences Po has been at the forefront of positive discrimination programmes in France and it has created an original redistributive tuition fees system in order to guarantee equality of access to Sciences Po. It is a fundamental part of its institutional development that admission to Sciences Po should not be determined by students' socio-economic status. The funds raised by the Sciences Po Alumni UK Charity Trust help Sciences Po to maintain its commitment to this principle of equality of access to education. The donations finance scholarships for British students or students involved in Franco-British programmes at Sciences Po at undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and (p.10) postdoctoral level. In addition, they contribute financially to the recruitment of British scholars. This means that without its alumni in the United Kingdom Sciences Po would lose some of the most valuable contributors to Sciences Po's community, both in terms of networks and professional opportunities and in financial terms.

The LSE: The Cornerstone of Our Collaboration with the United Kingdom

In the previous section we examined the different reasons that make the United Kingdom one of the most important countries for Sciences Po's international strategy. It is one of the most attractive destination countries for our students, it is central to our student recruitment strategy, it plays an essential role in our research networks and the internationalisation of our academic body and, finally, it is one of the principal destinations for our alumni and consequently one of the major countries for alumni donations. As a result, our partnerships with British universities lie at the heart of our international strategy. However, we have made a choice to develop privileged links with the one organisation that is closest to Sciences Po in its institutional project: the LSE. Indeed, as two of the leading universities specialised in social sciences, the LSE and Sciences Po are natural counterparts. The two institutions also share a common history. When the LSE opened in 1895, the École Libres des Sciences Politiques, Sciences Po's original name, served as a model for its creation. In recent years the LSE and Sciences Po have developed joint projects in teaching, research and networking activities and seek to develop their collaboration further.

The first formal link between the two institutions was forged in 2003, with the creation of a joint double master's degree in International Affairs. This double degree, based on reciprocal recognition of both the curriculum and the evaluation procedures in the partner university, offers the possibility to students of experiencing two complementary but different education systems and perspectives on international affairs. The degree takes two full academic years, with the first year in Paris and the second in London. At the end of the two years students are awarded a master's degree from Sciences Po and an MSc from the LSE. Since 2003 two other double degrees have been created on the same model: in 2006 a double degree in Urban Policy and in 2007 a double degree in European Affairs. The originality of these degrees lies in the fact that students are admitted jointly to the two institutions and are fully registered at both places for the entire duration of the degree. This means that they have access to all services, such as library services, student services, academic learning tools and careers services, at both Sciences Po and the LSE for the two years. For the students this is an extraordinary opportunity to study in a truly international environment (p.11) in the heart of two major European cities, to benefit from two different academic experiences and to have access to both the Anglophone and the Francophone job markets. These degrees are highly attractive and so entry is extremely selective; the degrees serve as an interesting recruitment tool for the best students for both Sciences Po and the LSE. From 2007 to 2009, the number of applications to these degrees rose by 20 per cent, with as many as 15 different nationalities in each master's course, a striking number given that there is a maximum of 25 students on each. Alumni of the double degrees now hold positions at United Nations agencies, the World Bank and the European Commission, big consulting firms and banks, law firms, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), national ministries and agencies, and urban development and land agencies. Others have continued their studies to PhD or MBA (Master of Business Administration) level at universities like Princeton, Cambridge and Harvard. Sciences Po and the LSE have thus succeeded in creating a joint brand for their degrees that appeals to students worldwide. Moreover, this joint teaching venture has resulted in interesting forms of teaching collaborations between the two departments involved. For example, joint seminars have been created for students taking the double degree; these are taught by members of both institutions, who thus provide the students with two different perspectives, in terms of both content and teaching style, on one of the core subjects for the specific field of the double degree.

These teaching links are cemented in research collaborations between the two institutions. Sciences Po and the LSE were able to create, thanks to the funds provided by the French Embassy in London, a two-year visiting professor position based in London: the LSE—Sciences Po Alliance Professor. Christian Lequesne, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Research (CERI), held this position at the LSE's European Institute from 2006 to 2008 and Marie Mendras, a professor at CERI and now head of the Direction de la Prospective at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was based at the LSE's Government Department from 2008 to 2010. They both contributed to the development of close ties between scholars at the two institutions who shared common research interests. Indeed, as full members of an LSE department they were able to facilitate exchanges and contacts with Sciences Po's research centres, which might have taken a lot longer to develop had there not been a facilitator. In this regard, the Franco-British dialogue lecture series was instrumental in forging these links. Since 2007, the European Institute has held, every term, a series of lectures at the LSE given by a Sciences Po scholar on current research interests. These lectures have made it possible for scholars at both universities to find areas of common interest, which, in some cases, have developed into joint research projects. This has brought Sciences Po and the LSE to develop their institutional collaboration at research level with the creation of a joint seed fund. LSE and Sciences Po faculty are eligible to apply jointly to this fund in (p.12) order to finance innovative proposals which are likely to secure further external funding. The seed fund operates on the basis of an open call for proposals, with permanent members of faculty free to submit proposals in any field or interdisciplinary initiative. This is a new venture and we hope that it will mark the next step in this flourishing research collaboration between Sciences Po and the LSE.

These collaborations led to our two institutions initiating the Global Public Policy Network (GPPN), which brings together Sciences Po, the LSE, Columbia University and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. The mission of GPPN is to address the most pressing public policy challenges of the twenty-first century and, as a result, to have policy impact, to be influential in public policy education and training, and to be innovative in teaching and research. GPPN has led to the creation of a fourth double degree, the Master's in Public Affairs (MPA), between Sciences Po and the LSE. Unlike for the other double degrees, admissions take place at each institution during the first year of the MPA course and, rather than students proceeding together from one year to the other, selected Sciences Po students go to the LSE for the second year of the MPA and vice versa, and they thereby obtain two degrees. In addition, Public Policy PhD students at both institutions can also benefit from a mobility scheme whereby they spend three months at the other institution with a supervisor who can help them with their PhD project. Sciences Po and the LSE also fund joint research through the GPPN Collaborative Research Grants Programme, which aims to promote collaborative research projects of the highest quality, with a specific focus on policy making and governance in the context of globalisation. GPPN aims to be as visible as possible so as to have a real impact on public policy. As a result, it holds a yearly conference, which brings together world-class academics and leading practitioners to analyse both public and private solutions to global public policy issues. In March 2010, a new innovative and interdisciplinary journal, Global Policy, was created to further develop this public policy initiative. Sciences Po and the LSE hope that the GPPN conference and Global Policy will serve as an internationally renowned platform for the public policy initiatives that they have developed with Columbia University and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Through these collaborative teaching, research and networking activities, the LSE has become Sciences Po's most important British partner and an essential one at global level. We have articulated our strengths together over the years so as to create a deep-seated Franco-British alliance that is competitive at the international level and shows how European universities can benefit from internationalisation while building on a European competitive advantage. The recruitment of students, the research efforts and the visibility of the two institutions have been enhanced through this partnership.

(p.13) Conclusion

In this chapter we have endeavoured to give a detailed picture of the strategy that Sciences Po has adopted towards internationalisation and in particular how it has been implemented in the United Kingdom, a country of great strategic interest for the institution.

But perhaps the most interesting question that remains unanswered concerns the ways in which a university can sustain a real and deep-seated internationalisation process over time. In the introduction, we argued that the drive to internationalise is to be found in most universities, so that what differentiates those institutions which succeed in an international context is an ability to push this process forward and to turn ideals into concrete actions. Sciences Po believes that the quality and depth of the links it has forged with its partner British universities stem from the structural support the institution provides for academic initiatives. Its governing bodies provide back-up to projects driven by its academics while at the same time seeking to establish strong institutional ties with its partner universities. This combination of a bottom-up approach for the identification and development of collaboration projects together with a strong involvement by governing bodies in the internationalisation process has been central to the success of Sciences Po's partnerships with British universities. The United Kingdom is, without a doubt, one of the countries with which the institution has been most successful in implementing this strategy, and for this reason it remains, and will remain, extremely important to Sciences Po.


(1) Education at a Glance 2009: OECD Indicators (Paris: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2009)

(2) Phil Vickers and Bahram Bekhradnia, The Economic Costs and Benefits of International Students (Oxford: Higher Education Policy Institute, July 2007)

(4) Education at a Glance 2009.

(5) For more information on these events see http://sciencespo.co.uk/category/events.