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The École normale supérieure (French pronunciation: [ekɔl nɔʁmal sypeʁjœʁ]; also known as Normale sup’, Ulm, ENS Paris, l’École and most often just as ENS) is one of the most selective and prestigious French grandes écoles (higher education establishment outside the framework of the public university system) and a constituent college of Université PSL.
It was initially conceived during the French Revolution and was intended to provide the Republic with a new body of professors, trained in the critical spirit and secular values of the Enlightenment. It has since developed into an institution which has become a platform for a select few of France’s students to pursue careers in government and academia. Founded in 1794 and reorganised by Napoleon, ENS has two main sections (literary and scientific) and a competitive selection process consisting of written and oral examinations. During their studies, ENS students hold the status of paid civil servants.
The principal goal of ENS is the training of professors, researchers and public administrators. Among its alumni there are 13 Nobel Prize laureates including 8 in Physics (ENS has the highest ratio of Nobel laureates per alumnus of any institution worldwide), 12 Fields Medalists (the most of any university in the world), more than half the recipients of the CNRS’s Gold Medal (France’s highest scientific prize), several hundred members of the Institut de France, and scores of politicians and statesmen. The school has achieved particular recognition in the fields of mathematics and physics as one of France’s foremost scientific training grounds, along with notability in the human sciences as the spiritual birthplace of authors such as Julien Gracq, Jean Giraudoux, Assia Djebar, and Charles Péguy, philosophers such as Henri Bergson, Jean-Paul Sartre, Louis Althusser, Simone Weil, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Alain Badiou, social scientists such as Émile Durkheim, Raymond Aron, and Pierre Bourdieu, and “French theorists” such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. The school’s students are often referred to as normaliens.
- Mathematics and physics
- History and literature
- Social sciences and economics
- Government and politics