Sciences Po vs HSE

Anna Leonova, a 4th year bachelor student of Asian and African studies programme, is sharing her impressions on a French education system and Sciences Po and saying why it reminded her HSE.

Individual studies is the keystone of the French education system, that is there are not so many classes but you have to do a lot on your own (especially if you complete all the tasks in time or in advance). International students can only enrol for 6 subjects. Apart from that one can visit sports classes for free (optional). Sports is more of a pastime for me so I didn’t take that option. Therefore, I had 12 contact hours a week MAXIMUM (six 2-hour classes per week). Some other international students only enrolled for 2-3 subjects. Full-time local students have more classes of course, yet, on average still less than at HSE. In France they have a 20-point grading system but no one receives 20. Usually 16 out of 20 is the best result. That’s reasonable considering 16 can be equaled to A+ in American-style grading system.

It’s easy to adapt in Sciences Po as approaches to teaching are similar to those of HSE

 - Sciences Po uses LMS-like system that provides you with a corporate email address, allows registering for subjects and checking your electronic grade book. The system is widely used. I also used it for registration and checking my timetable (can be in a table or a list format) that works without any outages by the way. You should upload all your information there, pay for insurance, provide your visa details, and a medical certificate (if you are planning to engage in sports).

 - Through your corporate email you can access electronic library where physically unavailable books and journals can be downloaded.

 - Same as at HSE, Sciences Po has a newsletter with the upcoming university events such as public lectures, career fairs and others.

 - At the end of the semester you have to complete a survey on the quality of teaching, and you will continue receiving reminders until you do that.

 - Sciences Po also scan all your assignments for plagiarism. You send your assignment to a specially created professor’s email where it is scanned automatically. There are exceptions of course. Once our professor asked us to forward our essays to his google address.

 - Sciences Po is not just a single building, the buildings are scattered around Paris. They are located mostly in the CBD, but unlike in Moscow they are all in a walking distance from each other (it will take you maximum 10 minutes between 2 most distant buildings).

 - Unlike at HSE, Sciences has no modules. A year is split in 2 semesters but because of spring and autumn breaks as well as midterm exams, it feels like there are 4 study periods instead of 2.

Students in Sciences Po create their curriculum themselves

You register for subjects yourself and choose which classes to attend: exchange students are free to choose any subjects from the catalogue. Students studying on a particular programme have the list of recommended subjects but they can still create their own timetable and that’s great!

However, this kind of system has its drawbacks. Spots for most popular subjects get booked off very quickly, and you have to press ‘register’ immediately for several disciplines. Just 3 minutes after course registration is opened, I only managed to register for 1 main course and 2 language ones. Luckily after 2 weeks you can apply for the unregistered courses again and all my subjects were approved.

Sciences Po and academic environment

Different students attend different classes at Sciences Po, therefore, it’s quite challenging to form meaningful connections within the university walls. Students barely talk before classes unless they knew each other in the past, and even if they do interact, it will mostly be subject-related. Usually people get acquainted at parties, other events and some project work. All the above shows that students come to the university to study.

Professors at Sciences Po actively engage with their students and like to be asked questions. They answer emails very quickly, usually within a day. All the lectured are accompanied by Power Point presentations and other interactive means.

I was surprised that Europeans never cheat during tests or exams even if they are not monitored by a professor. They believe in fairness.

All the French students prefer to study in libraries, and the libraries are perfectly equipped for that. Every work station has a socket for recharging a laptop. There are stationary computers as well (in case you need Internet connection but don’t want to take your laptop with you).

All Sciences Po libraries are equipped with Apple computers and you have to enter your corporate email address and password to use them. However, despite having Macintosh Operating System computers are slow.

You can also use stationary computers to print out all the necessary documents. All students are initially granted a virtual printing credit of 30 euros. When you spend it all you will have to top up your balance. 1 euro would print 20 black-and-white pages in A4 format.

It takes time to understand this new complicated system.

·        Firstly, you have to register yourself in the room where a printer is located (there is a special computer for that). You enter your login and password and tap your student card (typing the password in took me almost half an hour as I was unaccustomed to French keyboard).

·        Then you have to find an unoccupied computer. It is especially hard during examination periods as everyone comes to the library to study, often simply using not the computer itself but the space in front of it. That is why I always put on a charming smile and explained that I needed the computer for a moment, to print my documents out. People were very understanding and never refused. 

·        After that you enter your login and password on the computer, wait a little, download your file and press ’print’. Now the document is queued. Lastly, without logging out of the system, you to come up to the printer, tap your student card and voila, the document is printed. After a while you get used to the process and it doesn’t seem co complicated as it seemed.

Sciences Po offers no student accommodation

Like the majority of French universities Sciences Po has no student accommodation and students have to look for an apartment themselves. Financially-challenged students are offered assistance but they would have to go through an election process, collect many documents and, considering short stay (4 months) the chances to get that help are close to zero. There is a kind of chain of student housing for all Paris students (Cité Internationale Universitaire Paris (CIUP)). The houses are situated quite far from the centre and, in fact, you can rent a tiny studio or a room in the city for the same price.

Sciences Po and HSE are similar in their organization of the study process what made it easy to adapt. One should remember about the differences though: 20-point grading system when top grades are unachievable, students’ love for their libraries, fairness at the exams and superficial relationships among the group mates.