École Normale Supérieure

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For the generic term, see école normale supérieure.
École normale supérieure
École normale supérieure de la rue d'Ulm - logo.svg
Established 1794
Director Marc Mézard
Students 2,700 [1]
Undergraduates 600 [1]
Postgraduates Masters, agrégation, Ph.D
Location Paris, France
Colours yellow, purple
Nickname ENS Ulm, Normale Sup'
Affiliations PSL*
Website ens.fr

The École normale supérieure (French pronunciation: ​[ekɔl nɔʁmal sypeʁjœʁ]; also known as Normale sup’, Normale, and ENS) is a French grande école (higher education establishment outside the framework of the public university system). The ENS was initially conceived during the French Revolution.[2] It was intended to provide the Republic with a new body of teachers, trained in the critical spirit and secular values of the Enlightenment. It has since developed into an elite institution which has become a platform for many of France's brightest young people to pursue high-level careers in government and academia and symbolizes the independence of mind. Founded in 1793 and reorganized by Napoleon, ENS has two main sections (literary and scientific) and a thorough selection process consisting of written and oral examinations. The students excel in the fields of culture, academic research in the sciences and humanities. During their studies, ENS students hold the status of paid civil servants.

The principal goal of ENS is the training of elite professors, researchers and public administrators. Its alumni have provided France with scores of philosophers, writers, scientists, statesmen, officials and diplomats, journalists, lawyers, directors, managers and even officers in the army and churchmen. Among them are 13 Nobel Prize laureates, 10 Fields Medalists, several Prime Ministers, and many ministers. The school has achieved particular recognition in the fields of mathematics as the locus princeps of the French Mathematical School and in physics as the historic centre of French Physics, as well as great notoriety in the human sciences as the spiritual birthplace of "French theorists" such as Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Badiou.

The ENS system is different from that of most higher education systems outside France, thus making it difficult to compare; in particular, it is much smaller than a typical English collegiate university. Nevertheless, ENS has been consistently ranked 18th to 33rd in the QS World University Rankings since their inception;[3] in particular, it was ranked the best higher-education institution in Continental Europe in 2006 and 2007, and has remained among the top three in the same category since then.[4]


The historic Paris ENS campus is located around the rue d'Ulm, the main building being at 45 rue d'Ulm in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. The ENS-Ulm has annex campuses on Boulevard Jourdan (previously, the women's college) (48°49′21″N 2°19′53″E / 48.822439°N 2.331312°E / 48.822439; 2.331312, elsewhere in Paris), and in Montrouge (a suburb; 48°49′15″N 2°18′55″E / 48.820742°N 2.315180°E / 48.820742; 2.315180), as well as a biology annex in the countryside at Foljuif.

The main entrance to the ENS on Rue d'Ulm.

Originally founded to train high school teachers through the agrégation, it is now an institution training researchers, professors, high-level civil servants, as well as business and political leaders. It focuses on the association of training and research, with an emphasis on freedom of curriculum.

Its alumni include ten laureates of the Fields Medal (all French holders of the Fields medal were educated at the École normale supérieure), as well as several Nobel Prize winners in both science and literature.

The quadrangle at the main ENS building on rue d'Ulm is known as the Cour aux Ernests – the Ernests being the goldfish in the pond.

Like many other grandes écoles, the ENS mostly enrolls its students two or three years after high school. The majority of them come from prépas (preparatory classes, see grandes écoles) and have to pass France's most selective competitive exams. Studies at ENS last four years. Many students devote at least one of those years to the agrégation, which allows them to teach in high schools or universities. ENS-Ulm annually enrolls about 100 students in science and the same number in the humanities.

The normaliens, as the students of the ENS are known, are expected to maintain a level of excellence in the various disciplines in which they are trained. Normaliens from France and other European Union countries are considered civil servants in training. As such, they are paid a monthly salary (about €1350), with a great freedom in their studies at ENS, in exchange for an agreement to serve France for 10 years, including their studies. Although it is seldom applied in practice, this exclusivity clause is redeemable (often by the hiring firm).

Apart from the normaliens, ENS also welcomes selected foreign students ("international selection"), as well as selected students from neighbouring universities, to follow the same curriculum but without a stipend. It also participates in various graduate programs and has extensive research laboratories.

The fictitious mathematician Nicolas Bourbaki's "association of collaborators" is based at ENS.


For a long time, women were taught at a separate ENS, the École normale supérieure de jeunes filles. In 1985, after heated debate, the two were merged into a single entity with its main campus at the historic site at the rue d'Ulm in Paris.

Two other écoles normales supérieures were established in the 20th century: the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon (sciences and humanities); and the École Normale Supérieure de Cachan (pure and applied sciences, sociology, economics and management, English language) in Cachan.

More recently, the fourth école normales supérieure was created on January 2014: the École Normale Supérieure de Rennes (pure and applied sciences, economics and management, law school, sport) near Rennes.

All four together form the informal ENS-group.

The École normale supérieure is a member of Paris Sciences et Lettres - Quartier latin, a union of five higher education institutions, all located in Paris, which aims at achieving cooperation and synergy in the academic field.

The École normale supérieure cooperates in Atomium Culture, the first Permanent Platform for European Excellence that brings together some of Europe's leading universities, newspapers and businesses.

Influence abroad[edit]

The Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa was founded in 1810 as a branch of the École normale supérieure and later gained independence.

The ENS group has opened a branch at the East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai.

Free online content[edit]

Some lectures are in free access on the "Transfer of knowledge" site of the ENS.

About sixty books are in free access on the "Éditions Rue d'Ulm" site, all in French.

Alumni and faculty[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Faits et chiffres - École normale supérieure - Paris". Ens.fr. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  2. ^ "ENS Cachan Bretagne - Les écoles de l'an III". Bretagne.ens-cachan.fr. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  3. ^ "All Study Destinations". Top Universities. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  4. ^ "World University Rankings 2010". 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2012. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°50′31″N 2°20′41″E / 48.841837°N 2.344754°E / 48.841837; 2.344754