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Macron to close elite school

Known as ENA, the grande école has been the hothouse for France’s top civil service and a pathway to power in the public and private sectors. Four French presidents, including Macron, have passed through its doors as have dozens of ministers and business leaders.

Founded by Gen Charles de Gaulle in October 1945 with the idea of breaking the upper-class hold over France’s higher echelons, ending nepotism and making the civil service more democratic, it has instead become a byword for an establishment elite and been accused by critics of encouraging groupthink.

While the number of students from privileged families was 45% in the 1950s and 60s, this had risen to about 70% between 2005 and 2014, while those from working-class families fell to about 6%.

Macron’s decision to shut ENA was reportedly prompted by the
gilets jaunes protest movement that began in 2018 and was sparked by a sense that the country’s leaders were out of touch with ordinary French people, especially those living outside the cities.

De Gaulle’s aim of installing more égalité in French higher education was never realised and a 2015 study from the European Centre For Sociology And Political Science to mark its 70th anniversary stated: “However it is calculated, the intake has not democratised during the last 70 years”.

It concluded the ENA founders’ dream had not been realised, while admitting that one point in ENA’s favour was that the number of female students had risen to 45%.

ENA officials have pointed out the school’s socioeconomic profile is better than at some of France’s other elite higher education establishments, but critics have also attacked ENA as an echo chamber that trammels students along intellectually conformist positions.

Peter Gumbel, a British academic, has claimed that France’s
grande école system, and especially the ENA, has the effect of perpetuating an intellectually brilliant yet out-of-touch ruling elite.
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