The history of Sciences Po Strasbourg
France’s oldest Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) after Paris
The École libre des sciences politiques – it was the abbreviation of this name that gave us the term ‘Sciences Po’ – was founded by Emile Boutmy in February 1872. At the time, France was going though a period of republican and intellectual renewal. Boutmy wanted to reform the way in which the nation’s elite were trained and help France to recover after the debacle of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71.
The innovative approach to education adopted by the Ecole libre laid the foundations for the future Institutes of Political Studies (known as Sciences Po). For example, those directly concerned with the political process (statesmen, diplomats, etc.) were invited, for the first time, to teach alongside recognised academics; active cooperation was developed with universities abroad; and emphasis placed on the study of contemporary societies.
In 1945, the leaders of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, driven by their ambition for reform and the need to modernise the administration of France, established the National School of Administration (ENA). They also reformed the Ecole libre des Sciences Politiques and the initial training curriculum for public administration. This is how the Institute of Political Studies of the University of Paris (Sciences Po Paris) came into being, and at the same time, the National Political Science Foundation (FNSP). This period also saw the start of two processes which Sciences Po would continue to develop: democratisation (opening up access to its teaching to students other than those from the top Parisian lycées) and decentralisation. Thus 1945 also saw the establishment, by decree, of the Institute of Political Studies of the University of Strasbourg, the first Sciences Po outside Paris. Following on from this, eight other Sciences Po institutes were established (Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lyon and Toulouse in 1948, Aix in 1956, Lille and Rennes in 1991 and Saint-Germain-en -Laye in 2014).
The educational innovations of the former Ecole Libre continue to live on the spirit of Sciences Po today. Highly attuned to current developments, it has adapted its training programme to the contemporary world and anticipated needs in the fields of research and career skills. Initially a three-year undergraduate programme aiming to prepare students to take the competitive entrance examinations for the civil service, the diploma awarded by Sciences Po was extended to become a five-year course of study in 2005, to bring it in line with the LMD reform and comply with European standards.
The multidisciplinary education provided at Sciences Po includes law, economics, management, history, political science, geography, languages and marketing. The study programme is divided into three years during which students take all subjects, followed by two years of specialisation. The aim is to produce graduates who are specialists in a particular field (at Strasbourg the specialisations are economics and finance, public administration or international relations) but who also have an excellent general knowledge (especially a grounding in politics and history). This is what differentiates them from graduates of more traditional courses, and enables them to apply a cross-cutting perspective to the tasks that will be required of them. It is this special capacity for expertise that has always been, and remains, the hallmark of the added value of Sciences Po.