‘Stupid’ squabble over Paris name ‘sets France back 15 years’

Decision by top court means another rebrand will be needed to help outsiders understand who’s who among republic’s reassembled universities

January 7, 2022
Couple kissing near Eiffel Tower illustrating a story about the court case over University of Paris name
Source: iStock

Efforts to improve the international reputation of French universities will be set back more than a decade by the judicial decision to strip the University of Paris of its name just two years after its recreation, sector leaders warned.

On 29 December, the Council of State, France’s supreme court, ruled that the University of Paris, formed in 2019 from the merger of the universities of Paris-Descartes and Paris-Diderot, must change its legal name.

The two universities, formerly known as Paris V and VII, can both trace their lineage back to the 12th-century University of Paris, but share that pedigree with the University of Paris-Panthéon-Assas, which brought the case against them.

Since 2010, French governments have been incentivising the merging of universities to simplify the sector and strengthen its position internationally, a process that top institutions say has been set back by this latest decision.

“Questioning the name of the University of Paris takes us back 15 years, reopens debates that have now calmed down and will have a deleterious international effect on all the French actors,” said the Udice group of research universities, which includes the University of Paris.

The group said that institutions in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Boston and Oxford collectively contribute to, and benefit from, the prestige of their cities rather than bickering over ownership.

“It’s stupid because actually they [other Paris institutions] themselves benefit from University of Paris existing and being called University of Paris,” said Sebastian Stride, a founding partner at the consultancy Siris Academic, which counts several Parisian universities as clients.

“Paris I and Paris II will benefit from the University of Paris and Sorbonne University, just as Tufts and Boston profit from MIT and Harvard being next door,” he said, referring to the institutions now known as Panthéon-Sorbonne and Panthéon-Assas. “If no one is called University of Paris, no one benefits, and the system as a whole loses. France loses out.”

The court upheld the 2019 government decree that formed the university, ruling only that its name must change and that the state must pay €3,000 (£2,500) to Panthéon-Assas.

In a statement following the decision, the University of Paris said work was “already under way to quickly propose to the university authorities a new legal naming text”.

The decision may raise eyebrows at other merged institutions, such as the University of Bordeaux and the University of Montpellier, neither of which is the sole successor to their historic title.

ben.upton@timeshighereducation.com

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