École Normale Supérieure

Public institution

  • logo_École Normale Supérieure
    • The École normale supérieure (French pronunciation: ​[ekɔl nɔʁmal sypeʁjœʁ]; also known as Normale sup’, ENS Ulm, ENS Paris and most often just as ENS) is a French grande école (higher education establishment outside the framework of the public university system). It was initially conceived during the French Revolution and was intended to provide the Republic with a new body of professors, trained in the critical spirit and secular values of the Enlightenment. It has since developed into an elite institution which has become a platform for many of France's brightest young people to pursue high-level careers in government and academia, and as such stands as one of the symbols of Republican meritocracy, along with École nationale d'administration and Ecole Polytechnique ("X"), offering its alumni access to high positions within the state. Founded in 1794 and reorganized by Napoleon, ENS has two main sections (literary and scientific) and a highly competitive selection process consisting of written and oral examinations. Its students excel in the fields of culture, academic research in the sciences and humanities. During their studies, ENS students hold the status of paid civil servants.

      The principal goal of ENS is the training of elite professors, researchers and public administrators. Its alumni have provided France with scores of philosophers, writers, scientists, statesmen, officials and diplomats, journalists, lawyers, directors, managers and even officers in the army and churchmen. Among them are 13 Nobel Prize laureates including 8 in Physics, 10 Fields Medalists, more than half the recipients of the CNRS's Gold Medal (France's highest scientific prize), several hundred members of the Institut de France, several Prime Ministers, and many ministers. The school has achieved particular recognition in the fields of mathematics (Adrien Douady, Raphael Douady) and physics as France's foremost scientific training ground, along with great notability in the human sciences as the spiritual birthplace of authors such as Julien Gracq, Jean Giraudoux, and Charles Péguy, philosophers such as Henri Bergson, Jean-Paul Sartre, Louis Althusser, Simone Weil, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Nizan, and Alain Badiou, social scientists such as Emile Durkheim, Raymond Aron, and Pierre Bourdieu, and "French theorists" such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

      The ENS has a structure which is atypical within the French university system. The vast majority (97%) of academic staff hosted at ENS belongs to external academic institutions such as the CNRS and Parisian universities. This scientific turnover mechanism allows ENS to benefit of a continuous stream of France's topmost researchers in all fields. ENS full professorships are extremely rare and hence exceptionally competitive (22 in all disciplines, counting both active and emeritus). Generalistic in its recruitment and organisation, it is the only grande école in France to have departments of research in all the natural, social, and human sciences. Its status as one of the foremost centres of French research has led to its model being replicated elsewhere, in France (at the ENSes of Lyon, Cachan, and Rennes), in Italy (at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa), in Romania, China and in former French colonies such as Morocco, Mali, Mauritania, and Cameroon.
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