Sci Po: Is the new admissions process really more democratic?

Interview – For sociologist Pierre Merrell, the abolition of entrance exams for science Po reinforces social inequalities. With cover letters mostly being created by those around them, the new admissions process is both opaque and irrelevant.

Science Po has abandoned its traditional entrance exam from 2021 to “give a chance to all the best talent”. To join the Rue Saint-Guillaume School, you must submit your academic file to Parcoursup where the BAC, academic performance and the results of three writing exercises are assessed (“The candidate’s personal path, his activities and his training centre. interest”, “Candidates for Science Po and the motivation of their intellectual project and “Personal Essay on one of the five proposed topics”). Finally, admission is based on an oral examination.

» Read also – Science Po Paris: What happened to the outstanding candidates who failed the Parcoursup?

Is this new admission process more meritocratic? According to Pierre Merle, sociologist and author of let’s talk about school (La Documentation Française), this reform reinforces some of the social inequalities.

“All this playing around the personality of the student denigrates academic prowess”Pierre Merrell, sociologist

Take Figaro. – One of the admission criteria for Science PO is “Academic Performance” which includes marks obtained from 2nd year onwards. What to think about it?

Pierre Merle. – This inclusion of notes since the second is surprising. It has been shown that students of privileged origin often get the best marks. Admission reform also indicates that they would then be weighted by social origin. But how is this weighting implemented? This is a matter of further debate as grades from one class to another are not comparable. They are even less from one establishment to another. Hence they are not representative of the academic prowess of the candidates. Considering the scores that are not comparable to each other, and weighted in an unknown way, the new admissions process is both opaque and irrelevant.

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Qualification no longer depends on a competition based on a general schedule, but on, among other things, essays, in which a candidate’s “personality” is assessed. what do you think

The project of assessing the “personality” of candidates raises many questions. Why would this kind of motivation be preferred, and therefore rated better, than the other? How to objectively assess “personality”? It is difficult for all reformers to share a correction grid. All this talk about the personality of the student tends to discredit the academic skills. Defending a thesis, being able to write counter arguments and summaries are essential skills for science POs and all university students. Similarly, one may wonder why a writing on a “personal question” would be more relevant than a test on contemporary questions such as the management of pandemics or the scourge of the yellow vest, topics on which future students of science are concerned. Poe, by comparison, can show his level of reasoning. Currently, there is a sort of systematic devaluation of academic ability.

“Selection tests that had to be “personal” became families!”Pierre Merrell, sociologist

The reform aims to democratize access to the institution. These writings, which require no additional preparation, don’t they allow?

Writing a cover letter, a “personal question” and a file on extracurricular activities is very socially discriminatory. From kindergarten onwards, social origin largely determines linguistic, syntactic and lexical skills. Children of teachers or managers have an advantage over others in mastering the language. These differences are maintained, even reinforced during schooling, as shown by ministerial assessment. It comes down to relying on writing in the form of cover letters or personal essays to assess the strength of social determinants. Whatever be the methods of evaluation, mastery of spelling, rigor of expression and quality of syntax are always the selection criteria. These new writings are actually more uneven because some candidates, when their parents have graduated, will be helped the most. Selection exams that had to be “personal” became family. Of course, differences in skills according to social origin are at work regardless of the type of test. The mission of the school is specifically to reduce these.

“The current argument is opaque: without us knowing well why candidates have been denied or admitted”Pierre Merrell, sociologist

According to you, did the old Common Competition Model allow this?

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Descoing’s Reform encouraged positive discrimination based on specific preparation for the Science PO competition of students enrolled in high schools classified as elementary education. This improvement was relevant in that it narrowed the skill gap between these high school students and others. The current logic is opaque: candidates are denied or admitted without knowing very well. It’s a correction that results in a lot of arbitrariness. This leads to inevitable feelings of injustice. The first quality of selection is to be based on the most obvious criteria possible. Anonymous and equitable testing for all constitutes the first pledge of fairness.

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