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From a legal point of view, the public higher education institutions, which are public corporations, are in charge of public service in terms of higher education.

These institutions have varied legal status defined by the Book VII of the Education Code which distinguishes between Public Scientific, Cultural and Professional Institutions (“Etablissements Publics à Caractère Scientifique, Culturel et Professionnel” – E.P.C.S.C.P.) and the Public Administrative Institutions (“Etablissements Publics à Caractère Administratif” – E.P.A.). The E.P.C.S.C.P., among which are universities and major institutions, are French public higher education and research institutions which have a strengthened administrative, educational, scientific and financial autonomy, also statutory as far as universities are concerned. The E.P.A. legal status concerns the more professionally-oriented institutions as well as documentation institutions. Each of their specific legal status is governed by a decree related to their creation.

This statutory diversity does not necessarily cover all types of training. Thus, the training of engineers may be provided as part of a component of a university (a university “école polytechnique”), as part of another E.P.C.S.C.P. (“école centrale”), as part of an E.P.A. attached (the French higher national engineering schools) or not to an E.P.C.S.C.P., or as part of a private institution.

Directory of Public Scientific, Cultural and Professional Institutions (E.P.C.S.C.P.) on the website of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

The universities.

In mathematics, the CNRS counts 42 laboratories shared with the universities (UMR). The laboratories, which are funded up to 80% on average by the universities, bring together around 3,000 academics and researchers. There is also a significant number of mathematicians at universities who are active researchers, but who are not associated with one of these shared laboratories since the mathematics are not well represented at their universities or at their working place.

The Act on Freedoms and Responsibilities of Universities (“Loi relative aux libertés et responsabilités des universities” – LRU) sets up a new deal in terms of partnership between universities and research institutions such as the CNRS ; it confers a greater role to the former, which should encourage greater dynamism in terms of research. The forms of cooperation that worked so far are to be redefined according to the logic underlying the reform.

Directory of the universities on the Ministry of Education website

Directory of universities and higher institutions on the Agency for Mutualisation (“Agence de mutualisation des universités et établissements” - Amue) website

The “grandes écoles”

The expression "grande école" refers in the first place to a French higher education institution mainly recruiting through an entrance examination procedure of students attending classes preparing for the entrance examinations to the “grandes écoles”.

There is no definition or official list of “grandes écoles”. The legal texts mainly refer to the “grandes écoles” through the following expression of “classes preparing for the entrance examinations to the ‘grandes écoles’”. If one leaves aside a quotation from the Social Security Code, the word “grande école” is not used by the Education Code, which usually employs the higher schools expression in order to refer to higher education institutions which are not universities.

Most of the “grandes écoles”, and all of the scientific “grandes écoles”, provide teaching in mathematics. However, many have little or no permanent teachers in this field. Some have set up research laboratories in mathematics, of which five are UMRs from the CNRS (“Ecole normale supérieure” Ulm, “Ecole normale supérieure” Lyon, “Ecole normale supérieure” Cachan, and two at the “Ecole polytechnique”). One UMR from the “Ecole Centrale de Paris” hosts also a team of mathematicians.

Directory of “grandes écoles” and higher institutions on the Ministry of Education website

Directory of universities and higher institutions on the Agency for Mutualisation (“Agence de mutualisation des universités et établissements” - Amue) website