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Macron reforming French elite school École Nationale d’Administration (ENA)

Summary:
Interesting Proj Synd article by Ngaire Woods On April 8, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he will close France’s elite postgraduate school for training public leaders, the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA). Macron, himself an énarque (as graduates are known), says he wants to encourage equal opportunity and national excellence, and respond better to the challenges of COVID-19. But eliminating ENA will likely represent only a negligible step toward this goal.  Ironically, ENA was established in 1945 by General Charles de Gaulle to break up the French elite and overturn a system of patronage and spoils that had produced a corrupt and inefficient public administration. Admission to the school was thus subject to competitive examination, with those winning places

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Interesting Proj Synd article by Ngaire Woods

On April 8, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he will close France’s elite postgraduate school for training public leaders, the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA). Macron, himself an énarque (as graduates are known), says he wants to encourage equal opportunity and national excellence, and respond better to the challenges of COVID-19. But eliminating ENA will likely represent only a negligible step toward this goal. 

Ironically, ENA was established in 1945 by General Charles de Gaulle to break up the French elite and overturn a system of patronage and spoils that had produced a corrupt and inefficient public administration. Admission to the school was thus subject to competitive examination, with those winning places offered a salary for their studies.

Similarly, the United Kingdom’s Northcote-Trevelyan reforms a century earlier – which drew on Sir Charles Trevelyan’s experience rooting out corruption in Britain’s Indian civil service, as well as on the example of imperial China – sought to introduce recruitment by open, competitive examination, and make promotion merit-based. Subsequently, almost all countries – from the United States, Japan, and China to Ghana and Nigeria – have sought to embed meritocracy in their public administration, many by using examinations.

We have a different problem today:

The problem today is that the examination system no longer serves to identify talent and equalize opportunity, but instead has fueled a growing market in expensive private preparatory education that benefits wealthier students. So, whereas 29% of ENA students in the 1950s came from working-class backgrounds, by 2003, it was only 9%.

…..

Britain’s successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout has highlighted the benefits of keeping government in the driver’s seat, bolstered by private-sector leaders willing to help pro bono. This arrangement combines the best of the public sector – people’s trust in institutions that are vaccinating people – with the advantages of a venture-capital approach to assessing risk and allocating resources.

Three weeks after Macron’s announcement, it is now clear that he is not abolishing ENA but rather reducing its annual intake (from 80 students to 40) and renaming it. But the challenge for France is to build a public administration ambitious enough to attract people of purpose and talent, but also open enough to recruit from a much wider cross-section of society. Tinkering with ENA will not achieve this.

Amol Agrawal
I am currently pursuing my PhD in economics. I have work-ex of nearly 10 years with most of those years spent figuring economic research in Mumbai’s financial sector.

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