< SWITCH ME >
|Behind the Walls|
|Written by Robert Barr|
The EDHEC experience
Extreme parties, networking and the prestigious, door-opening name of the EDHEC written on your degree… This is what students expect from their education at one of France’s business Grandes Écoles. But is it enough? What should we expect from the economic future of a country whose graduates actually lack real interest in their subject?
"Grande École"... Already the name sounds awe-inspiring and very much like "grandeur." This is the term with which the French modestly tag those universities in their country which are thought to be the best, the crème de la crème! And so, I did not hesitate for long when my home university in Bayreuth, Germany, offered a place at one of those Grandes Écoles, the EDHEC.
Two months later I arrived in Lille on the weekend of the "Braderie de Lille," Europe's biggest flea market. Every year, for the first weekend of September, the entire city centre of Lille is closed to cars and open to those seeking to sell or to test their haggling skills. I made my first culinary encounters with French cuisine and bought what I needed to make myself feel at home in the new apartment, whilst strolling through the picturesque narrow streets of Vieux Lille with my new French coloc (flatmate).
The following day I decided to go on campus and mentally prepared myself for an ordeal, expecting a full day of administrational hassle and chaos. Surprisingly, however, there was no sign of the organisational hell usually described by many other students who have made the acquaintance of French bureaucracy. This was the first of many occasions to come which made me realise that paying several thousands of euros per term might entail some pretty tangible advantages… From the very first day and throughout the whole term, I was taken care of as a foreigner. Not only by the EDHEC's international office, which really made a huge effort in assisting with practical and organisational matters, but also by the student-run association "Open Up," a couple of welcoming EDHEC students who became good friends.
Studying at EDHEC
And at this point, most of the positive things I have to say about my experiences at one of France's top five business schools have pretty much been said.
To put my experiences in a nutshell, studying at EDHEC made me feel as if I had been transported back into old school days when many students couldn't care less about what they actually learned. In my course of "Management Accounting", students chatted in front of the professor in obnoxiously loud voices.
I asked myself, how it is possible that the allegedly best schools in the country attract such under-motivated students?!
In "Strategic Management" some of them slept in class in a painfully obvious way. Almost everybody had their laptops on the table, but they were using them for anything but taking notes, and students being sent out of class on a regular basis seemed only fair. It was, however, strange - somehow absurd in a funny way - when the Director of Studies addressed the whole of my year via email telling them off for their behaviour, very much like back in school.
I asked myself, how it is possible that the allegedly best schools in the country attract such under-motivated students?! It took me some months to gain a better insight into the French system of higher education and to come to the following conclusion:
First of all, many business students unfortunately don't appear to have chosen their programme for an inherent interest in the field but rather because of the increased likelihood of one day reaching a higher income bracket. While this might already not be the ideal motivation, the problem is further aggravated by the fact that once you get into a Grande École, grades lose their importance. To the French private economy, and thus to the future employers of EDHEC students, the name of the École where you have studied seems to be the only thing that matters. The students, seemingly fully aware of this, reduce their study efforts to a bare minimum so that they pass the exams. This aversion to studying might actually have its roots in the two years preceding entrance to the Grandes Écoles: to enter the best universities in the country, French students need to visit an École Préparatoire, a two-year programme of studium generale at the end of which they take centralised exams. In this period, they have to work very hard and practically renounce their social lives in order to achieve the necessary grades to study at EDHEC.
Once they have arrived at EDHEC, hard work seems to be replaced by partying hard.
Decadence and parties
Granted, those two years of École Préparatoire sound like hard work and it can be regarded as a major achievement to be given a place at EDEHC. But the way EDHEC students live out the newly won freedom is rather extreme.
Most of the university's day-to-day social life seems to revolve around the various associations which the students join in their first year. Being selected by the right group seems to be the greatest worry of many first year students, who are willing to go through bemusing to demeaning procedures in order to join their association of choice. The idea of becoming a "nobod(y)" (someone who has not been accepted by any of the associations) constitutes a real and nerve-racking threat to many of the first year students. One of my most outrageous encounters whilst studying at EDHEC was certainly the association "Course Croisièrs" (recognisable by the fact that they have to run around in red jackets whenever they leave the house), an association where members are obliged to act like aggressive imbeciles in the first few weeks of term when on campus or at any of the numerous parties, in order to show that they belong to the same "superior" group.
At a Grande École where students are preached to on many occasions that they are the elite of France and will one day hold the reins in the leading companies of Europe's second biggest economy, I had a hard time finding students who would justify being labelled as elite.
EDHEC students celebrate themselves once a month at so called Open Bar (flat rate drinking) parties, which seem to constitute the climax of decadence for many of them. Open Bar parties seem have one rule: every time you go to the bar, instead of ordering one drink per person, you order three: one for the barman's face, the second for the poor fellow's face standing behind you and the third for yourself to drink. With this technique, you can be sure to end up completely soaked in alcohol after 15 minutes. You're wondering why the hell anybody would enjoy that? I wondered too… and the only answer I found was: because they can afford it.
At a Grande École where students are preached to on many occasions that they are the elite of France and will one day hold the reins in the leading companies of Europe's second biggest economy, I had a hard time finding students who would justify being labelled as elite. In my opinion EDHEC does not live up to the reputation it has. It does, however, live up to its name: Grande École. But only if you take that name by its literal meaning, "big school."
Teaser photo: "Lukas van bentum" / www.youthmedia.eu, CC-License(by-nc)