Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris: walking through one past, present, and future (?) of global higher ed

Near the end of my sabbatical year in Paris (and Europe more generally), I spent some time taking photographs on the grounds of La Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, which is located on a 34 hectare site in the 14th arrondissement of Paris.

I used to spend a lot of time on the lovely grounds of Cité Internationale with my two children as we lived near it. I also had a chance to visit one of the residences (La Fondation des Etats-Unis) where my eldest son’s cello teacher was based (courtesy of a Harriet Hale Woolley Scholarship).

The Cité Internationale “represents the largest concentration of residence halls in Paris and the Ile-de-France region: 5 600 beds in 38 residences”, in addition to a “whole range of facilities and services” for both the students and researchers who stay, as well as the general public and even tourists. Historically, and at the present moment, Cité Internationale primarily provides services for students and researchers from outside of France, though some students from regions outside of Paris have and continue to be welcomed.

In some ways the Cité Internationale is clearly of a previous era, marked as it is by an inter-national conceptual framework. This is because the 38 residences were primarily focused on supporting students from particular countries, or else distinctive regions (usually those with a French colonial complexion).

See this link for a link to home pages for all of these residences: Abreu de Grancher (Cuba), Argentine, Arménie, Arts et Métiers, Asie du Sud-Est, Avicenne (previously Iran), Biermans-Lapôtre (Belgian and Luxembourg), Brésil, Cambodge, Canada, CICS (International Center for Short Stays), Collège Franco-Britannique, Danemark, Deutsch de la Meurthe, Espagne, Etats-Unis, Heinrich Heine (Germany), Héllenique Honnorat, Inde, Industries agricoles et alimentaires, Institut national agronomique, Italie, Japon, Liban, Lucien Paye (Africa), Maison Internationale, Maroc, Mexique, Monaco, Néerlandais (collège), Norvège, Portugal (André De Gouveia), Provinces de France, Robert Garric, Suède, Suisse, Tunisie, Victor Lyon.

In contrast to today’s thinking, foreign students from the late 1920s on were placed within their national residences within the Cité Internationale, an approach to hosting that could not help but inhibit aspects of inter-cultural dialogue on a day to day residential basis. To be sure there was inter-cultural dialogue; indeed this was the logic behind the establishment of Cité Internationale in the 1920s:

The Cité internationale universitaire of Paris was created in the pacifist context of the 1920s to support exchanges among students of the whole world. The story starts in 1920 when an important French industrialist, Emile DEUTSCH DE LA MEURTHE, wishing to create an enduring gift to society, contacted Paul APPELL, vice-chancellor of the University of Paris. Worried by the difficulties of students’ housing, Appell suggested to him founding a university residence. André HONNORAT, Minister for Public Education, approved of the project and devoted all his energy for nearly the next thirty years to its realization

Yet the exchanges would have been focused upon scholarly matters for the most part, versus the social learning associated with the mundane (e.g., exchanges regarding shared cooking duties, or how to coordinate the cleaning of shared apartments, both hilariously examined in the 2002 film L’Auberge espagnole). In short it is hard to imagine any authority, these days, placing so many foreign students within their ‘national’ houses. Indeed most residences in Cité Internationale now welcome applications from students of any nationality.

Yet in other ways, Cité Internationale was and is decades ahead of the majority of current thinking about the handling of mobile foreign students and scholars.

First, Cité Internationale is a product of a higher education era where the philanthropists and industrialists were vigorously active, far-sighted, and more concerned with encouraging enlightened thinking and substantive change versus their being fixated upon their personal wealth or disbursing some of this wealth under the right tax conditions, ideally with a naming rights rider. As the Cité website notes:

The Cité was founded in 1925, thanks to the generosity of industrialists, bankers and foreign foundations. Under the aegis of the minister André HONNORAT, the first president of the Cité, the industrialist Émile DEUTSCH DE LA MEURTHE, the banker David DAVID-WEILL, followed by many others [e.g., John D. ROCKEFELLER Jr.], offered to the future elites of the five continents a place of exceptional welcome. Their goal was to promote peace, exchanges and friendship among peoples after the trauma of the first World War. This is a mission still germane today.

With considerable foresight they established what has been deemed a “private foundation of public utility”. Yet 83 years later, in 2008, the EU, most member states, and numerous stakeholder organizations are facing huge challenges trying to cultivate philanthropy with respect to higher education, dominated as it is by national and sometimes state governments, with some funding also coming from the supra-national EU level. Can you point me to a new higher ed space, of this scale, anywhere in the world (let alone Europe), that is the product of “industrialists, bankers and foreign foundations”, in partnership with multiple levels of government?

And second, despite some challenges associated with housing foreign exchange students in a designated space (a campus, and within residences), spaces like Cité Internationale reflect the production of a service space, a space for knowledge production, and a space for the formation of social relations, that is not associated with any one university, while also being designed to ground mobile exchange students in a different territory for lengthy periods of time.

Thus we see musicians like the talented cellist who taught my son living side by side with chemists associated with university X in the Paris city-region, fine art scholars associated with university Y in Paris city-region, and mathematicians associated with research institute Z in the Paris city-region. This may have been, and is still (to a lesser degree) an international space, but it is also an exemplary interdisciplinary and inter-institutional space that brings together international scholars associated with many institutions that are based throughout the Paris city-region. This partly explains why the Region Ile-de-France has played such an important role in the substantial renovations process (that has been underway for over a decade). Cité Internationale is thus a form of higher education for regional development in a globalizing era, though via an initiative framed back in the 1920s! Imagine multiple universities coordinating the creation of such a space in a city-region like Amsterdam, London, Shanghai, Sydney or Toronto, though in a manner that folds in more students from the host country.

The remainder of this entry is photographic in nature – a tour through Cité Internationale, especially the facades of the central meeting space (the Maison Internationale, financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr.), and the “houses” that were designed (primarily between 1923 and 1969) to theoretically reflect national cultures. Many of the architects (e.g., Le Corbusier) were national heroes with international stature. This is a landscape designed to be read, and it reflects a diversity of conceptual currents that were prominent at the time, including the notion of culture as trait (versus process), colonial visions and postcolonial adjustments, and especially the international modern movement (which is captured very well in the Brazilian and Swiss houses). Each house also has a distinct and evolving history, for the operation of national or regional houses often reflected national crises including wars, genocide, revolutions (e.g., Iran), decolonization and independence, and so on.

Recall that 5,600 residents are housed in the Cité with thousands more visiting the grounds on a daily basis. I’ll leave it to you to detect what nations or regions, if any, these buildings represent, though link here if you need some hints…


Kris Olds

Update: also see ‘Video feed: Chambre 124, Cité International Universitaire de Paris’ (dir. Fabio Brasil, 2006)

Foundations, endowments and higher education: Europe ruminates while the USA stratifies

The role of university endowment funds in supporting higher education institutions varies significantly across space and time. Some higher education systems make no use of them, nor do they plan on doing so, while others are grappling with the socio-cultural, legal and political hurdles preventing their emergence as tangible material forces.

uwfound.jpgOver the course of the last six years, following a move to the United States (I’m based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, est., 1848) I’ve had a crash course on the socio-cultural foundations of endowment funds. It is this dimension that is amongst the most significant yet intangible force facilitating the development of endowments. I’ve acquired insights on this issue via guiding some visitors from Europe (including people involved in the Bologna Process, as well as from the European Commission) to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Foundation (pictured above), and simply by living and working in this context (an unplanned ethnography, if you will). The UW Foundation, which is the 46th largest in the US, has an endowment worth $1,645,250,000 (at the end of 2007). Note, though, that it is a separate endowment from the University’s autonomous technology transfer office (WARF) which has its own $1.5 billion endowment, and the UW Trust Funds (worth $450 million) that support all 26 campuses in the UW System.

During tours through the UW Foundation offices at 1848 University Avenue, which employs approximately 130 people, we witnessed a veritable machine in motion: counselors guiding dialogue between prospective donors and options for targeted initiatives; strategists working out the aggregate demographics of alumni base transformations; analysts working with integrated data bases that can identify thousands of data points including the occupations (including employers) of individual alumni, the value of their houses, and the ideal time (in terms of career and generational transition) to court them for large-scale donations; and a large room with computers and headsets where an additional 110 students (paid on an hourly basis, with free pizza on Friday nights) work from approximately 3:00 pm on so as to call alumni spread across the country while they are home at the end of the working day, but before they start winding down for bedtime.

Institutionalization aside, I’ve also witnessed the construction of a family-like university-alumni relationship such that the university, via the provision of a high quality (usually) education, generates a lasting social relationship with individuals. Apart from in the classroom, this also occurs via the establishment and maintenance of carefully crafted places where lasting memories of a positive nature can be created (such as the lake-side student union and Bascom Hill), events (including sporting events) which are often associated with planned spectacles (e.g., see the 49 second video clip below) that spark memorable experiences,

and the saturation of students’ senses with visual icons – in Madison’s case numerous trademarked logos, and the beloved starburst chairs that are placed on the lake-side student union. These places, events, and icons are seared into the memories of all alumni, with subtle but equally effective reinforcement provided by their inclusion in the free alumni magazines that get mailed out on a regular basis.

uwchair.jpgUpon reflection, the Canadians on campus, and visiting Europeans, view the construction of such a propulsive system with both fascination and a touch of unease. The brazenness of the effort to construct ‘family’, and then the application of advanced data bases to mine these relations to acquire financial gifts, can seem a touch too strategic and material in orientation. But when I meet alumni while parking cars at my son’s school playing field (a fundraiser that takes advantage of the fact that the 82,000 seat university football stadium is a mere three blocks away), I engage in direct conversations regarding, and observations of, that intangible alumni feeling. To be sure it is overtly strategic in some ways, but these people also feel like they are ‘giving back’: they are, in their minds, honouring the institution that played such a fundamental role in reshaping their lives, in connecting them to lasting friends (and often romantic partners), and marking their transition to adulthood. Of course they are also, via their donations, supporting subsequent cohorts of students. And the effects on the university are striking, with the John and Tashia Morgridge-funded Institutes of Discovery but one of the more striking examples. Indeed one group of alumni even donated $85 million in 2007 to ensure that the Business School is not named after any one person for the next 20 years; a surreal donation, in some ways, given the present logic of the system. In short, while the structural context is clearly a factor, it is the intangible socio-cultural dimensions that play a fundamentally important role in facilitating this development process.

nytendowment.jpgWhile universities in many parts of the world begin to grapple with socio-cultural, legal, and ideological dimensions of foundations, and endowment bases, it is also worth taking into account the emerging effects these endowments have in aggregate. Recently released data by the National Association of College and Business Officers (NACUBO) in the US identifies a clear private/public schism, and it is this schism that is the topic of discussion in today’s New York Times. As the NYT article notes:

The result is that America’s already stratified system of higher education is becoming ever more so, and the chasm is creating all sorts of tensions as the less wealthy colleges try to compete. Even state universities are going into fund-raising overdrive and trying to increase endowments to catch up.

The wealthiest colleges can tap their endowments to give substantial financial aid to families earning $180,000 or more. They can lure star professors with high salaries and hard-to-get apartments. They are starting sophisticated new research laboratories, expanding their campuses and putting up architecturally notable buildings….

Higher education has always been stratified, but the disparities were never as large as today. In the early 1990s, endowment income represented a small part of revenues at most colleges and universities. In 1990 Harvard’s endowment was $4.4 billion.

The last decade brought a sea change, as sophisticated money managers hired by the universities moved their portfolios into hedge funds, private equities and other high-performing investments, and endowments skyrocketed.

Some of the effects of the hastening stratification are evident even in my own relatively well-endowed university, where high quality departments (e.g., Political Science) have been raided by private Ivy League universities, leading to the departure of about ¼ of all of the professors in the last three years. Business Week also has two related stories (‘The dangerous wealth of the Ivy League‘ and ‘Educational excellence, without Ivy‘) regarding the effects of this stratification process.

Many European universities are in the early stages of establishing foundations and building up endowments, though most really have no idea how to do so. This said one emerging trend is to acquire gifts via firms (i.e., not high ‘net worth’ individuals), which will inevitably fuel the relative growth of business schools (unless these monies are taxed for the benefit of all assuming the business school is not stand-alone). Yet the development process is fraught with unresolved debates: is this a good idea?; is this a workable idea?; how does one overcome the socio-cultural barriers to the idea of donating money when ‘already’ paying via the tax system?; how can the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) compete (assuming it wants to) with the US without endowments, or at least substantially enhanced and concentrated funding of select universities?; etc. It is also noteworthy that key institutions, including the European University Association (EUA) and the European Commission, have yet to acquire accurate and systematic data about what endowments (if any) exist within individual European universities (though not for lack of trying). And at a broader scale the OECD has not conducted any serious research on this issue; a somewhat surprising fact given the policy relevance of the phenomenon.

So as Europe ruminates (or perhaps equivocates), it does make me wonder if this not too significant of an issue, and a debate, to be left to individual European countries (with the UK the most active), European universities, and European politicians, to grapple with. In short, why is there no systematic analysis and coordinated discussion?

Kris Olds