How Can French Universities Embrace Enterprise ?

Article publié dans le cadre du programme ECCE (Economic
Clusters of Cultural Enterprises – Clusters économiques d’entreprises culturelles)
, un projet européen s’étendant de décembre 2005 à juin 2008 qui a pour objectif de promouvoir le développement de PME créatives dans les régions et villes partenaires en Europe (Nantes, Angers et Rennes en France, Aix-la-Chapelle en Allemagne, CIDA (Creative Industries Development Agency – Agence de développement des industries créatives), Huddersfield au Royaume-Uni, Eindhoven et Utrecht aux Pays-Bas).
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1. Introduction

his article surveys current attempts to bring the French university approach based on the humanities face to face with the world of enterprise. Section 2 explains why, traditionally, such attempts have suffered from a double handicap, and how this is now beginning to change. Section 3 then goes on to outline the initiatives of the Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers that aim to overcome time-honoured boundaries, by helping French humanities students develop their entrepreneurial instincts. The conclusion of the article anticipates a broadening of these efforts and the creation of a vital “missing link” between cultural and business worlds.

2. Beyond Interventionalism

In France, relations between the university and economic worlds are still tenuous, even in the scientific disciplines. The gap between academia and business is occupied almost entirely by the grandes écoles – competitive-entry postgraduate schools – with their focus on training engineers. In France, teachers and researchers for the public sector have traditionally been trained at the universities. Historically,
the French university mentality has been marked by centralism and state control.
In addition, the cultural domain is marked by a strong tradition of interventionism and public funding. The idea of private finance for culture is still regarded by many in this sector as suspect or even dangerous.
However, if we look just beyond the country’s borders, we realise that not only is this context very French, but it is also a dead end. If the French university system, especially in the humanities, wants to have a future and keep its status in a globalised world, this defiant and even condescending attitude towards the economy cannot continue. The same is true for those working in the cultural sector; the policy of public subsidies cannot be the only source of funding. Recent laws on cultural patronage have attempted to improve the legal mechanism for diversifying funding sources.

3. Building Bridges with the Intelligence Economy

Against this general background – too briefly sketched here – the Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers is attempting to modify the situation for its students, both internally and together with its local partners. The Institut Arts, Lettres et Histoire, which has almost 500 Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students in the schools of classical and modern literature, history, fine arts, musicology, history of art, and cultural management, has realised the need to raise students’ awareness not only of the economic and professional perspective, but also, more recently, of the opportunity to start their own business. The academic, discipline- based approach that is still at the heart of a university’s work must build bridges with the “intelligence economy”.
The particular character of France’s Catholic Universities (Paris, Lille, Lyon, Strasbourg, Toulouse and Angers) means that, despite the state’s monopoly on issuing higher education diplomas, there is a certain leeway for inventiveness and flexibility to try to meet the challenge our students face in launching a creative business.

In practical terms, even though a great deal of energy has been taken up in reforming the Licence-Maîtrise-Doctorat system over the last few years, mechanisms to encourage venture creation have been set up in the third year of the Licence or Bachelor’s degree, and as part of the Master’s degree. At the Institut Arts, Lettres et Histoire, besides regular contact with the working world (“professional days” and “professional weeks”, lectures, long-term placements and so on), we are introducing teaching modules that address the question of venture creation directly.

This involves extensive work on the concept of personal enterprise, to correct the narrow view, often held by our students, that equates business with multinationals.

4. Conclusion: Creative Incubator Needed

These initiatives are certainly set to grow and to link in with those of other organisations in the Angers area that are involved in training (the Ecole supérieure des Beaux Arts, the Université publique d’Angers, businesses, cultural bodies, etc), which have an especially rich heritage and cultural identity. Moving beyond theoretical training in creative entrepreneurship, the plan for an incubator for creative ventures could perhaps form the missing link between the universities, people working in culture, and the world of business.

Pierre Gueydier is responsible for development at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest, Angers

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