We do not see them much in these complicated times of Covid-19 where the lecture halls are empty and distance courses have become the norm. But they are there, in number. They? These are the French students registered at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL). And each year more of them crowd into the benches of this prestigious scientific and technological university located in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
In less than ten years, their workforce has tripled: the establishment counted 923 in bachelor’s and master’s degrees over the year 2010-2011; they were 2,718 in 2019-2020. At the same time, the total number of students increased by 60%, with EPFL currently counting around 9,000 students.
“French people, there are many, many, many”, says the Lyonnais Raphaël Destriau, who went on to bachelor and then master in engineering of life sciences. Here, Swiss students are used to joking that EPFL is a French establishment. That is to say ! And the trend seems to continue. Of the 2,000 enrolled in the first year of the bachelor’s degree, 980 have a Swiss diploma and 780 a French diploma.
How to explain such success with the French? In general, “The reputation of the school attracts”, underlines Pierre Vandergheynst, vice-president of EPFL, in charge of education. In addition, the admission conditions are demanding: until 2014, a good mention in the scientific baccalaureate was sufficient. But since then, having a very good mention is a sine qua non.
The weight of rankings
This reputation has been built over the years under the leadership of the visionary Patrick Aebischer, at the head of the institution between 2000 and 2016. It is based on several elements: a very international recruitment of professors – today, only one a third of the professors have a red passport with a white cross – cutting-edge research, particularly at the interface between engineering and life sciences … In addition, the school has a modern campus where people can travel by skateboard or by bike, with its “innovation district” welcoming start-ups and major players in the industrial world, and buildings with remarkable architecture, such as the famous Rolex Learning Center, library and place of life.
Race results: EPFL, cited as a benchmark by Emmanuel Macron when the announcement in 2017 of the creation of two university centers in Saclay, is steadily progressing in international rankings. The university has thus gained four places in the last 2021 ranking of the British QS institute, to reach the 14e rank of the best higher education institutions in the world. Note: PSL University is the first French in the ranking, at number 52e place, and the Ecole polytechnique occupies the 61e rang.
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