Heinz Troll - Office Européen des Brevets
Interview with Jacques Lewiner, Professor and Honorary Scientific Director at ESPCI Paris - PSL, and former Dean of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Université PSL.
Could you tell us a little about how GEI Paris – the group that later became ParisTech – came to be founded in 1991? de Paris, association précurseur de ParisTech, en 1991?
The late 1980s saw the launch of the European Erasmus programme, which gave higher education students the opportunity to study abroad for part of their course. At the time, I was Scientific Director of ESPCI. One day, I received a phone call from the director of a leading UK university. He explained that he would like to send a group of his students to our school under the Erasmus scheme, and host some of our students in return. I told him that was an excellent idea! He then asked how many students we would want to send each year. He had me stumped there, so I turned the question back on him. How many students would he send us? A hundred! At that point, we had 72 students in each year group, so sending a hundred students abroad every year was simply impossible. I sat at my desk puzzling over the question and thinking about what we could do. Finally, I picked up the phone and called Jacques Lévy, Director of the École des Mines de Paris. “I’ve got a bit of a problem.” “Same here,” he said. “In fact I think I know what you’re going to say.” We realised that despite their prestige, our schools were microscopic when compared to the top institutions in other countries. We talked things over with Jacques Lagardère, Director of the École des Ponts et des Chaussées, and that’s how the Grandes Écoles d’Ingénieurs de Paris – or the Group of Engineering Institutes of Paris – was born. Our goal was to enable France’s top engineering schools to adopt a more united front, in particular in an international context.
Where did the name ParisTech come from? How did you choose it?
I was never very convinced by “GEI Paris” as a name. I got used to it, but I didn’t think it was particularly effective from a marketing point of view. We therefore decided to find something better. I really liked the name MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, so we started off by considering “Paris Institute of Technology”. The acronym “PIT” wasn’t great though. After some more brainstorming, we came up with ParisTech. I rushed off to check that the name hadn’t already been trademarked… success! It was ours to use. The network officially became ParisTech in 1999. It’s a name that reflects everything the network stands for. Almost all of the schools were in Paris – an attractive destination in its own right – so including “Paris” in the name was an obvious choice. The “tech” part of the name highlights the network’s focus on excellence and innovation.
What are the strengths of the ParisTech network?
The network brings together schools that complement one another and provide top-class education in their fields, but that are too small – as individual institutions – to compete on the world stage. If you look at the top-ranking American universities, you’ll see that they have impressive departments of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science and so on. Each of the ParisTech member schools is equivalent to one of these departments, offering an excellent standard of education in a specific field.
The ParisTech network also benefits from a strong international reputation thanks to its office in Asia and partnerships established in recent years with key countries such as China, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Russia. Moreover, the joint international recruitment campaigns allow each school to attract top candidates each year – something they would struggle to do alone.
Each member of ParisTech is firmly committed to teaching and research, and being part of a network makes it easier for the schools to collaborate on topics that are of mutual interest. This is a real asset because science and technology increasingly span multiple fields. By pooling their expertise and skills, the schools can tackle interdisciplinary projects.
The network opens up other international opportunities too. Together, the schools have enough students to take part in international exchange programmes, and can form partnerships and set up initiatives with top institutions in other countries.