Innovation and education: A Q&A with École Polytechnique
Education and innovation are often mentioned in the same breath, particularly when talking about the world’s top universities.
Speaking to École Polytechnique Provost Frank Pacard, we delve into the agreements that the leading French university has signed recently with the Universities of Toronto, Montreal and Halifax, discovering the key benefits of inter-institutional partnerships.
What makes École Polytechnique such a prestigious institution?
École Polytechnique is a world-class education and research institution, conveying a culture of excellence with a strong emphasis on scientific learning. It combines top-level research, academics, and innovation at the cutting edge of science and technology. Its different programs – from Bachelor’s to PhD – are highly selective and promote this culture of excellence.
For over 200 years, École Polytechnique has been a leader among the French Grandes Écoles (graduate institutions in sciences and technology). This leadership is due to the very high quality of our students and faculty and to our single, firm – and very specific – objective of providing a high level, multi-disciplinary, scientific and human education. École Polytechnique’s research departments are recognized for the excellence of their works in many fields such as mathematics, physics, and economy, and our students very much benefit from this excellence.
Many alumni of École Polytechnique have had distinguished careers in science, industry and politics. École Polytechnique is proud to count among its alumni: scientists responsible for major scientific breakthroughs that have resulted in Nobel prizes, CEOs and founders of leading international companies – such as Carlos Gohsn, CEO of Renault-Nissan; Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH; and Tidjane Thiam, CEO of Crédit Suisse, high-ranking civil servants and ministers, such as Abdourahmane Cissé, Minister of Ivory Coast, and even a former French President, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.
I understand that École Polytechnique has signed agreements with the Universities of Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. What is the core focus of these?
By signing these agreements, École Polytechnique hopes to pursue and strengthen collaborations with these Canadian universities, particularly with regard to student mobility. In today’s globalized world, we believe that it is vital for high-potential students – who are sure to have a great amount of responsibility in their professional career – to gain some experience of living abroad. Therefore, we strongly encourage all of our students to go off and discover other countries and cultures. An international experience like this is thus a mandatory part of our Bachelor’s and Ingénieur polytechnicien programs.
We intend to cooperate with the Canadian universities to be able to send our students off to study for a few months in Toronto, Montreal or Halifax, and in return, we will welcome students from those institutions to the École Polytechnique campus in France. The agreements we have signed also focus on exchanges of professors and researchers. They will help strengthen collaborations, develop exchanges, and provide a source of mutual enrichment with our partners.
What do you identify when signing such agreements? Is it a strict process of selection?
Polytechnique Montreal is one of our long-standing partners with whom we have been keeping agreements for over 20 years, but we have just begun cooperation with the Universities of Toronto and Halifax. Although each of the agreements signed with these partner universities covers a different scope, they share certain objectives and all have the same philosophy or approach. The agreements include an exchange program for undergraduate students, which will make certain procedures much easier for those who benefit from it, especially with regard to internship proposals and speeding up the process for acquiring a visa. We have also planned joint scholarship programs as part of the agreements, which will allow for increased mobility of promising students. Furthermore, the collaborations cover the creation of host programs for visiting professors and researchers, as well as joint tutoring agreements for PhD students.
The fact that our classes in English are taught in a Francophone country will perfectly meet the expectations of students coming from a bilingual country like Canada. Here they will have no difficulties following our excellent classes, where they will be able to learn while immersed in a French-speaking environment.
What challenges have you faced in pursuing these partnerships?
The challenges of this type of agreement are found mainly in the cultural differences between our countries. In France, completing an overseas internship or mentioning on your CV that you spent some time abroad is generally viewed to be very positive, especially by employers, and this has now become an essential career step. This is not necessarily the case in Canada, where students are not always encouraged to gain experience in a foreign country, even though, to my understanding, things are changing in that respect.
The challenge consists therefore of convincing Canadian students to travel abroad more, which will be valuable to them later in their career. These agreements will certainly help to highlight the importance of such exchanges.
How important is inter-institutional collaboration, both domestically and internationally?
Agreements signed between institutions are of course very important and their importance is always emphasized by the signatories. However, it is even more important to have “living” agreements, in the sense that these agreements actually allow things to happen, i.e. exchanges of students and researchers, and collaborative educational and research projects. I am convinced that the agreements we have entered into with the Canadian universities will be active, and some exchanges were already active even before any agreements were signed.
How can such agreements be used to the benefit of students, particularly in STEM?
Acquiring international study experience is a very sought-after asset for working at companies that are becoming increasingly international.
Students can benefit from different teaching styles and pedagogical approaches.
It is important for future leaders and decision-makers to have this level of cultural integration and bilingualism.
L’X is renowned for its very strong links with the start-up industry and environment.
Equally, are academic professionals able to prosper through the collaboration and sharing of resources?
These agreements open up the possibility to develop exchange programs for professors and researchers, which will allow for new collaborations to be forged in relation to both research and joint education programs.
Are these agreements integral to solving the growing global issue of digital skills shortages?
The agreements we have signed are not specific to the digital sector, but the exchange of experience in this field nevertheless remains very important. Our partnerships will allow for the advancement of such exchanges, as our institutions have much to contribute to each other.
Should educational institutions be responsible for addressing this? What role do governments and corporations need to play?
Higher education and research institutions are already doing a great deal to nurture talents in the digital world. In order to do so additional funding is needed, and this comes either from state governments or from private enterprises, for instance in the form of sponsorship. They will then in turn benefit from the exceptional education given by universities.
How changing your company's software code can prevent bias
Two-third of tech professionals believe organizations aren’t doing enough to address racial inequality. After all, many companies will just hire a DEI consultant, have a few training sessions and call it a day.
Wanting to take a unique yet impactful approach to DEI, Deltek, the leading global provider of software and solutions for project-based businesses, took a look at and removed all exclusive terminology in their software code. By removing terms such as ‘master’ and ‘blacklist’ from company coding, Deltek is working to ensure that diversity and inclusion are woven into every aspect of their organization.
Business Chief North America talks to Lisa Roberts, Senior Director of HR and Leader of Diversity & Inclusion at Deltek to find out more.
Why should businesses today care about removing company bias within their software code?
We know that words can have a profound impact on people and leave a lasting impression. Many of the words that have been used in a technology environment were created many years ago, and today those words can be harmful to our customers and employees. Businesses should use words that will leave a positive impact and help create a more inclusive culture in their organization
What impact can exclusive terms have on employees?
Exclusive terms can have a significant impact on employees. It starts with the words we use in our job postings to describe the responsibilities in the position and of course, we also see this in our software code and other areas of the business. Exclusive terminology can be hurtful, and even make employees feel unwelcome. That can impact a person’s desire to join the team, stay at a company, or ultimately decide to leave. All of these critical actions impact the bottom line to the organization.
Please explain how Deltek has removed bias terminology from its software code
Deltek’s engineering team has removed biased terminology from our products, as well as from our documentation. The terms we focused on first that were easy to identify include blacklist, whitelist, and master/slave relationships in data architecture. We have also made some progress in removing gendered language, such as changing he and she to they in some documentation, as well as heteronormative language. We see this most commonly in pick lists that ask to identify someone as your husband or wife. The work is not done, but we are proud of how far we’ve come with this exercise!
What steps is Deltek taking to ensure biased terminology doesn’t end up in its code in the future?
What we are doing at Deltek, and what other organizations can do, is to put accountability on employees to recognize when this is happening – if you see something, say something! We also listen to feedback our customers give us and have heard their feedback on this topic. Those are both very reactive things of course, but we are also proactive. We have created guidance that identifies words that are more inclusive and also just good practice for communicating in a way that includes and respects others.
What advice would you give to other HR leaders who are looking to enhance DEI efforts within company technology?
My simple advice is to start with what makes sense to your organization and culture. Doing nothing is worse than doing something. And one of the best places to start is by acknowledging this is not just an HR initiative. Every employee owns the success of D&I efforts, and employees want to help the organization be better. For example, removing bias terminology was an action initiated by our Engineering and Product Strategy teams at Deltek, not HR. You can solicit the voices of employees by asking for feedback in engagement surveys, focus groups, and town halls. We hear great recommendations from employees and take those opportunities to improve.