France’s newly elected president was both a student and an economics professor at Sciences Po.
With his victory in the presidential elections on May 6, François Hollande became the third Sciences Po graduate in three decades to hold France’s highest office. He graduated from Sciences Po in 1974 and, after completing his education at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA), Hollande subsequently launched his political career in the administration of François Mitterrand, who was elected president in 1981.
Mitterrand himself was a Sciences Po graduate, back in 1937 when the school was known as the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques. His successor as president, Jacques Chirac, likewise is a Sciences Po alumnus who graduated in 1954.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the outgoing president, attended Sciences Po from 1979 to 1981, but unlike his predecessors and his successor, he didn’t graduate. A semi-official biography by Catherine Nay, Un pouvoir nommé désir (Grasset 2007), explains that he dropped out after flunking his English classes. Still, his presence at the institution means that the last four French presidents in a row, and five of the seven presidents of the Vth Republic, have received at least a part of their education at 27 rue St Guillaume. The fifth was Georges Pompidou, who also graduated from the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques in 1934.
That track record is a highly visible reminder of the role Sciences Po has long played in French public life. The “royal road” to a top position in government in France, either as a politician or as a civil servant, has for decades led through Sciences Po and ENA, with some of the brightest students of the former going on to the latter. The two institutions were for a long time physically separated only by a garden and a wall. The garden is still there, but the wall has gone, and Sciences Po now occupies the building that was once home to ENA, 56 rue des St-Pères.
A large majority of Sciences Po graduates today go on to careers in the private sector, but the attachment to public life continues: every year a substantial number of the students who are successful in the competition to be admitted to ENA receive their preparation at Sciences Po. Many other graduates go on to positions in international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.
Hollande’s attachment to Sciences Po goes deeper than his student days. Starting in 1988, the year he was elected a member of the French parliament, the Assemblée Nationale, he started co-teaching some economics classes. That’s not unusual: more than 3000 professionals today still take time off from their daily schedules to teach one or two classes at Sciences Po, providing students with the academic underpinnings of their disciplines but also highly valuable insights from their practical experience. Hollande’s fellow teacher for these economics classes was Pierre Moscovici. Although they went separate ways, the two men have worked closely together again this year: Moscovici managed Holland’s successful presidential election campaign. Perhaps it goes without saying that Moscovici, too, is a Sciences Po alumnus.