History of Higher Education: France

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

The history of tertiary education of France reflect the distinguishing features of a specific era. Starting from the very first university, there were various factors that had an impact on education and shaped it's direction and purpose.

Below are some of the key factors identified throughout the period of 13th to 20th century:

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Middle Ages[edit | edit source]

The first establishments of higher education institutions occured in Middle ages; thus, they were affected by that era. The formal history of French higher education, however, starts in the beginning of the 13th century, with the construction of the University of Paris (Prost and Cytermann, 2010). After that, between 1250 and 1300, 12 universities were founded, and 27 were established within the years 1300 and 1350 (Hottin, 2011). The development of the educational establishment and the education as a whole was affected by the economical, political, and social situation in the country.

Thus, between 1350 and 1400 there were only eight novel universities established in France due to political instability and other negative factors (Hottin, 2011).

The creation of the first universities during the Middle Ages affected the further development of education in France and even in Europe. In the 14th century, for instance, universities became one of the symbols of medieval Paris (Verger, 2018).They were associated with the districts, citizens, culture, etc. It can be stated that education drastically affected people's lives.

This tendency continued to strengthen. By the end of the 15th century, the impact of educational establishments continued to raise, and the attitude toward them changed, as well as people's perception of the universities. At that time universities were considered to become the institutions to approve the knowledge by providing people with degrees (Hottin, 2011). This resulted in the increased role of education in France.

16th - 19th century[edit | edit source]

In the 16th century, education in France was affected by Jesuits and the religion overall. The arrival of Jesuits to Paris was a meaningful event in the system of French education. Several universities and colleges were established by them, and, in some period of time, these newly founded instituions replaced old ones that were not able to support their activity (Hottin, 2011). These institutions were highly demanded and respected by French Protestant nobility (Castagnet-Lars, 2017). Therefore, from that period the education was connected to church and controlled by it to promote specific views within students.

During the period of Regence (1715 -1723), the number of universities increased. This, however, was considered to be more disadvantage than advantage, since the concentration of educational establishments per district was too high (Hottin, 2011). As a result, Jesuite college Louis-le-Grand had to face the high level of competition (Hottin, 2011). Moreover, another problem that Jesuite universities and colleges had to face is the suppression of Jesuites community (Hottin, 2011) that later on affected the education of France.

Closer to the end of the 18th century there were some changes as well in higher education sector. Some of the universities were transfered from one place to another (Hottin, 2011). Overall, the educational sector were developing and enlarging at that period of French history.

20th century[edit | edit source]

The XX century was a period of reconsideration. According to Prost and Cytermann (2010), despite of the well-established disciplines as law, literature, science, and medicine, it was a period of redefinition of ancient structures and systems.

Historically, this century was commemorated with extreme events and changes that were reflected in education system as well. In the beginning of the 1900s, the movement of secularism resulted in legal separation of educational establishments from the impact of religious institutions (Toulemonde, 2016). Educational institutions were not affected by religious supremacy.

Nevertheless, education was still affected by the political situation and different transformations (including the war, postwar period, ideology, etc.). The politisation remains mutual within local and international students in France (Picard, 2009). At the same time, the social role of the higher education institutions was identified, even though there are some inaccuracies in terms of research of that particular time (Picard, 2009). Overall, the tendencies and events of the 1900s shaped the system of education in France.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The development of higher education institutions in France is significant not only within the country, as it caused an effect on the European education overall.

Additionally, the history of tertiary education clearly demonstrates the empact of diverse factors on education in various terms. The Middle Ages shaped the establishment of universities of that period in terms of culture and society. During that era the perception and the main purpose of education were established, as people started to realize the pivotal role of education. Educational establishments were recognized as places that examined people and could provide them with a proof of their knowledge (by awarding students with the degree).

The religion also played an important role in French higher education. The colleges and universities established by Jesuits provided a quality education; however, at the same time, they promoted certain views within students.

Political influence replaced the religious one. Higher education was also utilized to promote the governmental ideology. At the same time, higher education in France also reflects the demands and features of the specific period of time.

Reference List[edit | edit source]

Castagnet-Lars, V. (2018). L’histoire des élèves en France du XVIe AU XVIIIe siecle : Des acteurs dans l’ombre des institutions scolaires [The history of students in France from the 16th to the 18th century: Actors in the shadow of educational institutions]. Histoire de l'éducation, 1(150), 35-72. https://doi.org/10.4000/histoire-education.4146

Ford, F. L., Verger, J. & Brockliss, L. W. (1988). The history of French higher education: New contributions. History of Education Quarterly, 28(3), 411-416. https://doi.org/10.2307/369090

Hottin, C. (2011). La constitution de l’espace universitaire parisien (XIIIe – XVIIIe siecle) : Jalons pour la redécouverte d’un patrimoine [The constitution of the Parisian university space (13th – 18th century): Milestones for the rediscovery of a heritage]. In Situ, (17). https://doi.org/10.4000/insitu.11310

Magaziner, J. (2015, September 8). Education in France. WENR. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://wenr.wes.org/2015/09/education-france

Picard, E. (2009). L’histoire de l’enseignement supérieur français. Pour une approche globale [The history of French higher education. For a global approach]. Histoire de l'éducation, (122), 11-33. https://doi.org/10.4000/histoire-education.1938

Prost, A. & Cytermann, J. (2010). Une histoire en chiffres de l'enseignement supérieur en France [A history of higher education in France in numbers]. Le Mouvement Social, 233(4), 31-46. https://doi.org/10.3917/lms.233.0031

Toulemonde, B. (2016). Secularism and the law. [The secularism of education]. Administration & Éducation, 151(3), 23-28.

Verger, J. (2018). L’université de Paris au Moyen Âge (XIIIe-XIVe siècle) [The University of Paris in the Middle Ages (13th-14th century)]. In B. Bove & G. Gauvard (Eds.), Le Paris du moyen age (pp. 175-193). BELIN.