The setting up of the Grandes Ecoles | MacTutor Index |

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The Grandes Ecoles have been associated with elitism, prestige and teaching excellence since their creation. Their foundation is linked to a period of great change in France, the Revolution of 1789. From the tradition of the school of engineering set up by the Monarchy in the eighteenth century, a new system of education was put together to train qualified engineers for the service of the republic. A pivotal role was given in this system to a new institution, l'Ecole Polytechnique. The student followed a long training with a strong emphasis on mathematical education before specializing in a particular trade by entering one of the engineering schools such as l'Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées or l'Ecole des Mines.

Les Grandes Ecoles epitomized the values and ideals of the French Republic. Elitism and excellence were apparent in the entry selection process as well as in the studies. This tradition has permeated across the frontiers and similar system of education can be found in countries around the world, the best example being perhaps the engineering schools in Germany.

Studying the setting up of the Grandes Ecoles also involves some of the most important names in French science: exceptional mathematicians like Fourier or Cauchy have been involved in the establishment of the Grandes Ecoles system. It is remarkable that such a number of important scientists were implicated in the process and in particular in the creation of the Ecole Polytechnique.

Finally the approach to mathematics that is part of the tradition of the Grandes Ecoles tradition has profoundly marked the development of the subject in France ever since. One may see the influence of the teaching in the work of the N. Bourbaki group from the nineteen-thirties onwards: *les Eléments mathématiques* written in collaboration by a group of graduates from the Ecole Normale had as its principal aim the reintroduction of rigour to the foundation of mathematics. This approach mirrors the mathematical views of Cauchy which were quite dominant in the design of the mathematical courses of the Ecole Polytechnique.

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