By Alexander Gelfand
This fall, a small group of undergraduates from the French university Sciences Po will arrive at the School of General Studies to complete their educations in the United States. They won’t be earning one degree, however, but two; and the program they’ll be inaugurating is no simple student exchange or year abroad.
Students will spend two years at Sciences Po, one of a handful of grandes écoles that have traditionally trained France’s political and diplomatic elites, followed by two years at Columbia. By the time they’re done, they will have earned undergraduate degrees from both universities.
“Two great institutions of higher learning will share something at the core of higher education: the undergraduate experience,” Francis Verillaud, vice present for international affairs at Sciences Po says. “This will create a corps of students that will share the two institutions’ values.”
Through their joint participation in the Alliance Program, a Franco-American educational consortium that also include the École Polytechnique and the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Columbia and Sciences Po already offer a number of dual-degree programs at the graduate level. The new program, known officially as the Dual BA Program Between Columbia University and Sciences Po, is a different animal, however – one that will significantly advance Columbia’s commitment to expanding its position as a global university.
“Columbia has always had a very international student body at the graduate level,” says University Provost Claude Steele, who will travel to Reims to inaugurate the new program in September. In its 2009 report, the Task Force on Undergraduate Education recommended that similar attention be given to internationalizing the educational experience of undergraduates, including increasing the number of international students who study at Columbia for an undergraduate degree. This new program, which will bring students from Europe and around the world to study with students already at Columbia, could well serve as a model for other institutions.”
During the pilot phase of the program, a select group of students who hail from France, Norway, Brazil, and Germany and have already spent two years at Sciences Po will come to Columbia to complete the curriculum of the School of General Studies. At the same time, Columbia and Sciences Po will begin jointly recruiting and admitting high school students from Europe, North America, Asia, and elsewhere. These entering freshmen will begin the program at one of the three Sciences Po campuses that offer instruction in English.
Each of these campuses has a distinct international focus, and draws students from different regions of the world. Reims concentrates on transatlantic relations; Menton on the Middle East and Mediterranean; and Le Havre on Europe and Asia. “Sciences Po is an archetypal French institution, but also a global one,” Vanessa Scherrer, director of the existing Alliance Program and visiting professor at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs says.
Two years later, those students will matriculate at Columbia to complete their dual degrees. When the program reaches full capacity, there will be 60 students in New York and 60 in France at any given time. “We will really be getting cohorts of students who will fully participate in the life of both institutions,” Peter Awn, dean of the School of General Studies says.
By bringing together students from around the globe and having them study full time for two years at a world-class European university before bringing them to a world-class American one, the new program will expose participants to a wide range of languages, cultures, and experiences. The ensuing cross-fertilization of attitudes and perspectives will make “an immense contribution to the intellectual conversation in the Columbia classroom,” Awn says.
Verillaud envisions the same benefits for Sciences Po, which places similar emphasis on internationalizing its student body and on preparing its graduates to deal with the complex global challenges of the 21st century.
“Together, we can accomplish even more than we could alone,” he says. “In this case, one plus one makes more than two.”