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2012. Vol.3, Supplement, 185-186
Published Online December 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/ce) DOI:10.4236/ce.2012.37B048
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Sino-French Engineering Curriculums: An Ongoing Process for
Social sciences Institute, University of Lausanne, University of Lausanne, UNIL, Lausanne, Switzerland
Here is a multisite case-study paper presenting Sino-French engineering education reform cooperation
process. This questions the consequences for the introduction of a hybrid framework in a both dynamic
and dichotomous innovation context such as Chinese one.
Keywords: Component, French Style Engineering/’Grandes éColes’; Adjustments; Translations;
Perceptions; Discourses; Practices
It has been 15 years that Sino-French engineering education
is emerging in China. Starting on Chinese Minister of Educa-
tion’s initiative, what the projects are about is importing the
very French style engineering ‘grandes écoles’, meaning presti-
gious graduate engineering schools expected to educate coming
leaders and decision makers in the field of engineering as well
as in finance, entrepreneurship or higher civil service positions.
The purpose is to implement such institutes within Chinese
higher education system, bringing alleged elitist French know
how: selection, studying and working pace, broad based educa-
This multisite case-study paper offers to be part of social
studies of science, more precisely relying on sociology of
translation works in the vein of Michel Callon and Bruno La-
tour. Trying to think such a highly hybrid as China’s Si-
no-French engineering education platforms, I will rely the theo-
rization part of my analysis on Rigas Arvanitis’ works, showing
China’s major gap is trust lacking between industrial, public
research, universities and administration actors. Indeed,
actor-network theory implies that links play a bigger role than
actors themselves, regardless of how powerful they might be.
China is becoming good at attracting physical as well as human
top quality capitals. But they still tend to work apart from do-
mestic ones, leading to two largely autonomous types of tech-
nological development, as identified by Zhao Wei. Thus,
analyzing Sino-French curriculums as seen through the eyes of
the translation sociologist will enlighten our understanding of
connections so as to to catch who trusts who, and how.
My point is to get a deeper comprehension of what origina-
tors of these projects intended to do compared with what ac-
tually happens. Here is a paper based on a multisite case study
analyzed thanks to two field-works led in mainland China
(from May to August 2009 and March to June 2011), enabling
to get 28 semi-structured interviews on three campuses located
in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Thus, I could respectively
analyze Beijing Central Graduate School, Shanghai Sino-
French Institute for Engineering and Management and Sino-
French Institute for Nuclear energy in Zhuhai (Guangdong). I
have met most of the persons in charge on the French as well as
on the Chinese side, including some industrialists. As a coun-
terpoint, I also visited and met a German manager for the Si-
no-German Center in Tongji University.
First, strategic goals have to be clarified and organized for
such massive long-term investments (annually millions of euros,
key technologies knowledge and know how sharing). Com-
pared with Chinese requests, French counterparts have re-
sponded for many reasons and with many different frames of
mind as an original windfall effect as far as French managers of
Sino-French institutes behave like campaigners, supporting the
education subsystem they actually grew up inside. What mat-
ters here is also about French foreign policy, French language
promotion, and education of high skills workforce French
companies do miss in China. As a consequence, our analysis
goes about Chinese bureaucracy as well as Chinese students’
sociology or Chinese companies’ requests and non-requests,
which is noteworthy.
Even if Sino-French engineering education has been strongly
backed up by Chinese as well as by French governments, what
it relies on within society is quite different. Not meaning Chi-
nese industry will get no benefit from such a qualified work
force, it has to be noticed that French demand pull dynamic
contrasts with Chinese political push. That’s why the coopera-
tion process, though quite dynamic, and somehow balanced,
works through organizational asymmetry, mostly relying on
industrialists on the French side while it is still political and
administrative business in China.
Second, each others' discourses need to be compared be-
tween them and to the emerging reality of Sino-French educa-
tion in China. Listening to Chinese leaders as well as their
French counterparts, the story seems to run as if French engi-
neering schools had been designed centuries ago to cooperate
and to become integrated institutes into Chinese traditional
university frame. However, capacity for adaptation indeed ap-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
pears as a rising issue so as to make it possible to build French
style education programs sticking to Chinese current environ-
As a matter of fact, French engineering education tradition is
part of an ongoing bargaining, recasting, translating process
aiming at building mutual confidence. Several key issues have
been reshaped in the field of organizational behavior, budget
sharing as well as teaching strategies. Involved actors actually
behave according to their best interest and their own subjective
conception of what and how higher education should target
‘professional engineers’ as it keeps on being repeated.
Such an entanglement of Sino-French various partners raises
many questions among which only a few actually takes a part in
agenda setting: who precisely should pay for education of Chi-
nese engineers? What relative positions and goals are to be
attributed to Chinese, English and French languages within a
risingly multilingual teaching, studying and working context?
Managers in charge of Sino-French engineering institutes also
have to deal with numerous very practical issues resulting from
know how transposition, reshaping and building processes.
Here stand soft but powerful change factors for engineering
educat ion style.
Contribution and Significance of Research
Part of the process led to important shifts, out of French
managing team’s will as well as their Chinese counterparts,
namely as critical spirit is at the heart of the educational project,
within and about Sino-French engineering teaching frame. In
the final analysis, this case-study paper questions the conse-
quences for the introduction of a hybrid framework in a dicho-
tomous innovation context as far as the hybrid is to design,
displace and, thus, redesign a wider network for innovation in
China, which is explicitly Chinese government’s medium term
strategy. That’s why engineering visions are to be part of a
broader comprehension of social context highlighting a kind of
interlocal socio-technical hybrid.
Arvanitis Rigas and Ruffier Jean, 2008 : L’inégal développement in-
dustriel de la Chine : capacités d’innovation et coexistence de
différents modes d’apprentissage technologique in Région et déve-
loppement, numéro 28, Paris : L’Harmattan.
Zhao Wei, 2006 : Économie de l’innovation et développement des
capacités technologiques en Chine, Thèse pour le doctorat à
l’Université Paris III, sous la direction du Professeur Xavier Richet.