PARIS: Armed with an ever-lengthening list of prestigious names on its teaching staff and a constantly improving ranking, the Paris School of Economics — which celebrates its 10th birthday this year — is making its mark in the world of economics research, despite limited resources and its unusual structure.
Conceived from the very beginning as France’s answer to the London School of Economics or even Harvard, the idea of a PSE was long championed by France’s top economic thinkers such as Daniel Cohen and Thomas Piketty, author of the bestseller “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”.
“At the time, economic research in Paris was very splintered,” said Pierre-Yves Geoffard, the school’s director since 2013.
“There were successful institutions, but they didn’t have international visibility because they lacked the critical mass.”
Aware of such shortcomings, six elite institutions decided to combine their strengths and set up something of a higher education joint venture — the Ecole d’Economie de Paris or Paris School of Economics.
“The idea was to make these different institutions work together to cover all of the field of economics and give more weight to their work,” said Piketty.
As each of the institutions — the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the Ecole des Ponts ParisTech, the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS), the Ecole Normale Superiere (ENS), the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA) and the University of Paris 1 – Pantheon-Sorbonne — had their own proud traditions, merging their economics programmes was never going to be easy.
– Ranked seventh globally –
There were also concerns about the finances, but the French state chipped in and the PSE found private sponsors, including insurer AXA.
When the school was inaugurated in 2007, there were doubts in education circles as to whether project would succeed.
Ten years later, those doubts have largely been dispelled.
The PSE has catapulted itself to seventh place in the industry-standard Repec rankings of university economics departments. It is the second outside of the United States, behind Oxford.
“We have succeeded within a number of years in establishing ourselves in the academic world,” said Geoffard.
Its success helped “bring foreign researchers to France and stop a part of the brain drain from the country,” he added.
PSE, where all of the courses are conducted in English, has a teaching staff of 145 drawn from 18 countries. More than half of its 400 masters and doctorate students are from outside of France.
True to its motto of “economics serving society”, PSE economists lead dozens of consultancy missions for private firms and public institutions.
It also participates in numerous research projects in order to contribute to the public debate on issues.
“They are very active,” noted Frederic Lebaron, a professor at the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.
Nevertheless, Lebaron he feels the PSE “lacks diversity in its research subjects,” and also “standardises” the Anglo-Saxon model of economic thinking.
Such a charge is rejected by Piketty, whose book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” explored wealth and income inequality.
“We are trying to develop a vision of the economy which is multidisciplinary, which creates links with history and sociology,” he said.
Financial constraints haven’t helped.
The PSE has an annual budget of just 9 million euros ($10 million), although the salaries of many staff are covered by the founding institutions. In any case, it is a very long way from its Anglo-Saxon counterparts in terms financial firepower.
“To attract foreign researchers, that can be a problem,” said Geoffard, who praised the amount accomplished by professors and students with the limited resources.
PSE’s structure also means that it doesn’t award degrees — they carry the name of one of the founding institutes.
PSE had also been hampered by being dispersed across numerous sites, but it opened a new building in February in southern Paris.