Sciences Po is a great school because it produces well-trained and responsible graduates. But this training has a cost: students lose freedom, critical thinking, and the achievement that comes from rising above the bare minimum. It is not a cost worth paying.
Sciences Po graduates are very homogenous: they must go to class, they all go through the same civic learning program, and they all go abroad to different schools to expand their worldview.
This leads to well-rounded, competent, and civic-minded students. In general, a Sciences Po degree guarantees an “above average” graduate. Employers know to expect certain qualities, and they know Sciences Po has a pool of graduates that fit their requirements. Perhaps this is why Sciences Po boasts a 96% employment rate, 84% of which are hired within 6 months of graduation. Such a fast hiring-process implies that Sciences Po graduates have specific skill sets that employers can rely on.
But what graduates lack is the prestige that comes from being far above average, something which is in a graduates’ best interests, as it makes them look better. Without an inequality of outcome, our achievement is not worth as much. If everyone is just as successful as you are, then your achievements are not such a big deal. University is the place where people distinguish themselves from their peers, and carve out their characters and personal visions. Unfortunately, it is no longer so — at least in Sciences Po.
This stands in stark contrast to, say, Canadian universities, like the University of British Columbia (UBC). There, you may choose to not do much. Or, you can involve yourself in extracurriculars, community projects, and sports. If you do, your accomplishments will be yours alone and you will stand out from the crowd. The average UBC graduate is probably recovering from last night’s party rather than the night’s reading. In order to pump out consistently competent graduates, Sciences Po cannot allow them much freedom.
For one, we cannot choose courses from different areas of knowledge. It is extremely important for students to do this if they are to acquire a general education. We are not offered courses on religions, non-political philosophy, or natural sciences. Rather, our courses are limited to the social sciences — history, sociology, economics, political science and law — and languages too, of course.
The second problem? Attendance is mandatory. Students cannot miss more than two classes without a justification! This starkly contrasts with UBC, where there are no penalties for choosing to not attend class. If one wishes so, they can just sit their final exam, and pass with that grade alone. At most, some professors make participation part of your grade. But the intelligent ones remove any obligation for students to come to class, so that only students interested in discussing the readings stay behind. This is natural selection at its best, those without the desire to learn are weaned out from the group and only the wisest stay.
Of course, freedom is not cheap. It means that you alone are responsible for your education. You decide that whatever happens, you cannot blame your university for failing you. It is a heavy burden to bear.
Finally, critical thinking is discouraged at Sciences Po. Critical thinking means learning to think for yourself. At UBC, the arguments that professors put forward are open to all students to criticise — debate is encouraged. This is not the case in Reims.
Instead of using evidence and reason to back up arguments, Sciences Po relies on consensus. For example, at the Gender and Equity seminar for incoming students, the starting point of the lecture was the low status of women in society. There was no discussion whether this is actually the case. This is a problem for students, and even professors, who want to learn how to think. How is this a problem? Without analysing why something is a problem, we will not be able to invent ample solutions. At the seminar, it was noted that men spoke more than women during class. The solution? Get professors to pick women to speak more often than men. This is very top-down approach. It does not take into consideration the dynamics between students and teachers which account for why certain students are picked to speak and not others. Change here does not reflect the reality of the situation, rather, things are changed in the pursuit of better statistics.
Perhaps it is a good thing for Sciences Po graduates to not think for themselves. This way, when they join the workforce in the private or public sector, they put their company or ministry’s interests ahead of their own.
It is a good thing then that students at Sciences Po travel abroad for their third year. If you choose a good school, you will get to experience the freedom that makes you special.
Which model is better: a career university or one where the pursuit of knowledge is primary? I say the latter. I say this because if one is going to be a world leader, or run organizations, one needs an enormous amount of willpower, ambition, and self-direction to succeed. The best way to find and select these candidates is to make excellence optional. One’s value should not be based on a degree. It should be based on the accomplishments one has achieved while juggling school and extracurriculars, and these achievements are what graduates should use to persuade employers to hire them. They end up much more valuable as people and stand out from the crowd.
Eugene Fernandes is an opinion writer for the Sundial Press and an exchange student from UBC Okanagan. When he’s not scrolling through twitter or arguing with the person closest to him, Eugene can be found reading, snacking, sleeping, or trying to teach himself something new. Likes include baroque architecture, Jordan Peterson, and Camille Paglia. Dislikes include Postmodernism. That’s all.