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MARCH, 1907



General Inspector of Public Instruction, Paris

Within a quarter of a century the impulse of the republican government has modified our system of education to such an extent that it can hardly be recognized. Forty or fifty years later than in the United States, France has witnessed in its elementary schools a movement of progress similar to that period of development which has been called, in your country, the "revival of the common school." But in higher education also these reforms have been both numerous and important. Great innovations,

veritable creations, have changed the face of things.

It is out of the question to enumerate them all in a brief survey, but we shall at least indicate the essential features of what has been done, and in addition make a few prophecies for the future.


This country,

Prior to 1896 France had no universities. which, during the Middle Ages, had held first rank in the estab lishment of these organs of higher learning, had, for a hundred years, been deprived of them. There were but few isolated faculties, scattered and without cohesion-faculties of law, medicine, science, and letters. Being under the direction of the government, these faculties were deprived of all individual liberty. They frequently lacked the spirit of initiative and of research. They were poor and without proper equipment. They were


located in buildings which were old and inadequate. Their facilities were insufficient, particularly in the faculties of sciences, which had no laboratories and but little apparatus for research. Our most celebrated men of learning-Claude Bernard, for instance-have labored in garrets, in cellars, and in sheds.

On the other hand, the faculties of letters had no regular students, but only occasional listeners-amateurs who came for diversion rather than to derive benefit from lessons that were more oratorical than didactic. Instructors were few-but four or five in faculties that today number fifteen or twenty. There was not always an instructor to represent subjects of importance or sciences of the first order. And, finally, these faculties, which did not always deserve their title of institutions of higher learning, and the greater number of which were simply professional schools where public examinations were held, did not enjoy a life in common. They vegetated in the same city, separated from one another. As recently stated by M. Liard (who, as director of higher education, has contributed more than any other man to the foundation of new universities), even in Paris the members of the various faculties met but once a year at the "Messe du Saint Esprit."

Today everything is changed. The law of 1896 has established upon solid foundations the sixteen French universities. No doubt, all these are not of equal importance. A few of them comprise but two faculties: sciences and letters. But others are decidedly flourishing, and can now compete with foreign universities. The University of Paris takes the lead, and its pre-eminence is not contested. However, Lyons, Nancy, Lille, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Toulouse, and Grenoble also excel, and in some respects compete with, the University of Paris.

Perhaps the new law has not as yet been sufficiently liberal in its concessions to our universities. It may still be desired that they become more and more autonomous. But even now they govern their own destinies in a large measure, and are free in their movements. Under the presidency of the rector, who alone directly represents the government, a council of deans and professors the latter elected by their colleagues-has

charge of their management. This council, itself under the control of the minister of public instruction, regulates the order of studies, establishes the budget of the university, introduces new courses, etc.

Universities in France have not had the good fortune to be endowed by such generous benefactors as the multimillionaires in the United States-a Leland Stanford or a Rockefeller. Such great fortunes are not common in France. However, the Universities of Paris, Lyons, Nancy, and Bordeaux have in the past been favored with gifts, some of them amounting to two or three hundred thousand francs. On the other hand, their wealth accrues from year to year through increasing attendance.

It is true that foreigners do not respond as readily as we could wish to the invitation of France. Americans in particular are too likely to pass France by on their way to German universities. Progress, however, is marked and constant. Official statistics show that the enrolment of foreign students, who in 1900 numbered 1,779, has been as follows: 1901, 1,841; 1902, 1,862; 1903, 2,045; 1904, 2,094; 1905, 2,360, of whom 774 were women. With its 31,000 men students and about 1,000 women students-foreigners not included—our higher education, while not as yet on a par with that of Germany, occupies a very honorable position in the European world. The University of Paris alone has enrolled more than one-third of the total number of men students, French and foreign, or 12,496 in 1905, and about one-half of the women students, or 935, the total number of these being 1,922.


The reform of 1902 has greatly modified the system of secondary studies in colleges and lycées for boys. This reform. had been prepared by the extensive investigations of a committee, of which M. Ribot, former minister of public instruction, was chairman, in which the reports of the greater number of competent professional men had been collected. It consisted in creating four different types of secondary education, each having its own distinct curriculum, but with the same time given to each

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