2010-2012 / Emergence of a new type of cooperation
When they created the Sorbonne Paris Cité research and higher education consortium (PRES) in 2010, the eight founding members (La Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris Descartes, Paris Diderot and Paris 13 universities, Sciences Po, IPGP, Inalco and EHESP) had the shared vision of becoming one of the twenty top-ranking academic institutions in the world. In doing so, they also contributed to the goal of showcasing the Parisian academic landscape and playing a decisive role due to the wide range of disciplines and the size and the diversity of its members.
Thanks to the new cooperation ties developed within this new framework, the four universities and four institutions comprising the Sorbonne Paris Cité academic consortium thus wished to increase their research and teaching potential at both the core and interface of the disciplines concerned.
Conscious of the scientific excellence proffered by the consortium as a result of its many disciplinary synergies, and the subsequent scientific, pedagogical and administrative cooperation possibilities, the eight academic institutions developed an excellence initiative project in 2011 as part of the scheme implemented by the French government to set up five or ten university consortiums that could compete with the best universities in the world.
Based on the concept of “excellence”, the call for projects emphasised several points:
• the present and future international prestige of the candidates,
• development of the economic impact of research,
• professionalisation of studies and equal opportunity,
• the importance of the governance and management of the institutions.
While the allocated resources were to be concentrated on an “area of excellence” defined by the individual institutions, the project had to ensure overall coherence and, more importantly, ensure a “ripple effect” that would extend beyond the IdEx project. This call for projects was related to other operations conducted within the framework of the Future Investments scheme, particularly the selection of Laboratories of Excellence (LabEx), Facilities of Excellence (EquipEx), University Hospital Institutions (IHU) and Companies to Accelerate Technology Transfer (SATT).
The Excellence Initiative project submitted by the Sorbonne Paris Cité consortium was designed to provide the means of developing the consortium’s most remarkable research and teaching actions, strengthening their capacity to drive the entire academic consortium to higher performance through greater decompartmentalisation of subject areas, and broadening choices and partnerships.
Using existing resources organised into either excellence projects already submitted to the Future Investments Programme or projects with specific-top level objectives, its aim was to stimulate scientific risk-taking, the implementation of development programmes with broad international scope, the rapid development of even more attractive graduate schools, the restructuring of certain departments and support functions to achieve greater efficiency and the redeployment of resources, particularly with the aim of boosting research development.
In 2012, the project, renamed Sorbonne Paris Cité University, was one of the winners of the Future Investment Programme’s IdEx scheme (PIA 1). At the time, it was an integrated IdEx project that did not have an independent legal entity. The Sorbonne Paris Cité University was therefore legally responsible for the implementation and management of the project whose aim was to create a unified university by 2016, when the IdEx would be re-examined by the international jury.
2012-2016 / Complex implementation
Given its size and diversity and the strong national and international positioning of its members, the Sorbonne Paris Cité University Consortium could not expect an immediate merging of its member institutions. On the other hand, it had a high potential for synergism and scientific and pedagogical opportunities.
The founding members therefore came up with a solution that would respect both the commitments and individual characteristics of each institution.
By recommending the development of university systems such as consortiums of academic institutions, the Fioraso act of July 2013 seemed to provide the members of Sorbonne Paris Cité with a viable answer to their problem. But although the consortium met the need to restructure the academic landscape by proposing a more flexible model of governance, it did not encourage more integrative governance.
In 2016, in its assessment of the IdEx project, the international jury considered that the creation of the Sorbonne Paris Cité Consortium of Academic Institutions could not be considered an extension of the integrated research university presented in the 2012 project and recommended that the Sorbonne Paris Cité IdEx project be disbanded.
The institutions concerned analysed the reasons for their failure. Some of them also noted the need to build a new, more visible and more integrated academic institution, which would be internationally recognised. The four partner universities proposed to launch a think tank on the creation of a new university based on the links that had been established between them.
The combined academic and scientific power of the institutions and their determination to succeed convinced the General Investment Commission to ask the international jury to re-examine their IdEx application in December 2017.
2016-2017 / From failure to success
The last quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2017 were therefore devoted simultaneously to examining the conditions for creating this new university through an inventory and initial exploratory phase, and defining the guidelines for a new IdEx project in view of creating a world-ranking intensive research university. The work accomplished during this period to advance the project involved a large number of administrative and academic staff in addition to the students.
At the end of the process, reflection converged on a university consortium based on three academic institutions, namely the Paris Diderot and Paris Descartes universities and the IPGP, in close collaboration with the other partners.
The resulting target university, composed of eminent, world-ranking institutions each in its own field, will be based on top level research and offer students the opportunity to follow widely diverse courses.
The project as it currently stands offers the possibility of accelerating the change process. It is perfectly in line with the policies conducted up until the present of which it is a continuation while offering the possibility of another level of integration.
The IdEx Initiative of Excellence label will be an undeniable asset for the project but not a prerequisite. It is not simply a question of combining the strengths of the institutions concerned but of restructuring them, by encouraging mergers and diversifications and fostering a transdisciplinary approach.
The aim of the Université Paris 2019 project is to create a complete, attractive centre of excellence both within Parisian society (students and socio-economic partners) and on an international scale.