France to inject diversity into elite ENA school

26th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

One of the government’s measures includes organising an intensive training programme for students from poor immigrant backgrounds ahead of the ENA’s 2010 entrance exam.

PARIS – The French government on Wednesday announced a shakeup of the elite ENA public service school to bring in students from poor immigrant backgrounds and allow them to rise to the top.

The Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA) has for decades been the seedbed for presidents and the upper echelons of the civil service although President Nicolas Sarkozy notably did not attend the Strasbourg-based institution.

ENA has come under criticism as an elitist club at a time when Sarkozy has vowed to inject diversity into France's overwhelmingly white establishment following the rise of Barack Obama at the White House.

Public Service Minister Eric Woerth told a cabinet meeting that for the first time ENA will be organising an intensive training programme for underprivileged students ahead of the 2010 entrance exam.

"ENA has an obligation to be exemplary when it comes to diversity," said Woerth. "This is not about quotas, but rather finding a way to help prepare entry" into the elite school.

A first group of 15 students will be chosen from high schools in so-called priority education zones, mostly in France's immigrant-heavy suburbs that exploded into rioting in 2005 and have been simmering in tension since.

Another key change is the scrapping of the exit ranking for ETA graduates that gave them access to plum posts in the public service and put them on the trajectory to power.

The government now wants to make jobs open to all of the 100-odd graduates who emerge from ENA annually.

ENA's alumni include former presidents Jacques Chirac and Valery Giscard D'Estaing, ex-prime minister Dominique de Villepin and his predecessors Lionel Jospin, Edouard Balladur, Alain Juppe and Laurent Fabius.

Critics of ENA accuse it of producing a class of brilliant but stereotyped technocrats, out of touch with ordinary people and incapable of responding to the needs of a rapidly changing world.

After Obama's election drew calls for change in France, the government has taken a second look at education prospects for its black and Arab minorities who complain of being shut out of French mainstream society.

AFP / Expatica

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