France’s higher education system can seem arcane to outsiders, especially those from the English-speaking world. Although the Sorbonne is coeval with Oxford and Cambridge, there is far greater prestige in attending one of the Grandes Écoles such as Polytechnique or the École Normale Supérieure, only accessible by notoriously difficult entrance examinations. Perhaps even less familiar is the Collège de France, established by François Ier in the sixteenth century as a secular alternative to the Church-dominated Sorbonne; the Collège today is essentially a research university whose professors, elected by their peers, represent the élite of senior French academics.
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