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Stratified higher education,social mobility at the top and efficiency: The case of the French ‘Grandes écoles’

Hellier, Joël (2017): Stratified higher education,social mobility at the top and efficiency: The case of the French ‘Grandes écoles’.

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Abstract

We show that the system of ‘Grandes écoles’ (GEs) is a key determinant of social stratification, low intergenerational mobility at the top and low educational efficiency in France. A stylised model of the French higher education system is constructed. This system is composed of two types of establishment, the GEs and the universities, which differ (i) in the strictness and shape of their admission, and (ii) in their per-student expenditures. The GE system is compared with a unified system in which there is one type of establishment only with two successive levels and two admission procedures. The GE system favours family background at the detriment of personal aptitudes, which lessens intergenerational mobility. Rising expenditure on the highest education level favours skill upgrading of the population in the unified system whereas it insulate a narrow elite in the GE system. With similar education expenditures, the unified system results in higher human capital accumulation than the GE system in both the upper skill group and the whole population. Consequently, the GE system hurts both social mobility at the top and human capital accumulation. The simulations show that the former effect is larger than the latter. The US and the UK display tertiary education systems which are close to the GE system in terms of selective admission and results. Our approach provides theoretical bases for the analysis of selective versus comprehensive education systems (Turner, 1960) and a demonstration that highly stratified and selective systems reinforce family backgrounds and reduce mobility (Kirckhoff, 1995).

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