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École Polytechnique and IP Paris have turned a corner in all their areas of development – Eric Labaye

President of École Polytechnique and the Institut Polytechnique de Paris since 2018, Eric Labaye will step down as head of both institutions on September 16th. He takes stock of the many progress made during his five years in office.
École Polytechnique and IP Paris have turned a corner in all their areas of development – Eric Labaye
05 Sep. 2023

As you approach the end of your term as President of École Polytechnique and the Institut Polytechnique de Paris, what is your assessment of the main achievements of the two institutions?

Eric Labaye - My five years in office have been devoted to the development of École Polytechnique and the launch of the Institut Polytechnique de Paris (IP Paris), which in just four years has established a leading position among the world's Top 40 higher education and research institutions.

École polytechnique, a founding member of IP Paris, has scaled up with its world-renowned programs, and is now a recognized multi-curricular School, with its research and scientific capabilities integrated into the IP Paris research center and an innovation cluster that supports a growing number of start-ups within a unique ecosystem.

École Polytechnique has turned a corner in all these areas of development, despite the Covid-19 health crisis. And it has done so thanks to the commitment of all our staff and the Polytechnic community, as well as the support of our supervisory board and administrators.

Because this is a necessity in an institution of excellence, I have been particularly committed to École Polytechnique's operational and financial turnaround, to ensure that it has the needed resources for its long-term expansion.

I have also encouraged a far-reaching change in the School's commitments, in line with the major contemporary challenges : the transition to a more sustainable world and the promotion of inclusion while respecting social, cultural and gender diversity.

A the implementation of the Performance and Objectives Contracts (POCs) for École Polytechnique  and IP Paris signed with their supervisory authorities at the beginning of 2022, is now under way, both institutions are on a right track.


Your term of office was indeed marked by the Covid health crisis. What was its impact?

Eric Labaye - Our priority has been to ensure the continuity of our education, research and innovation missions through a digital switchover. We achieved this in just one week, thanks to the mobilization of everyone involved. This performance would not have been possible had the digitalization of the School not already been well underway. From this point of view, the health crisis has certainly speeded-up this major transformation.

The School was also fully committed to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and to serving the common good. Our students mobilized en masse in hospitals, but also with the Paris fire brigade, the French Gendarmerie and the Red Cross. Numerous initiatives by the School’s researchers and entrepreneurs contributed to the fight against the pandemic.

The health crisis, both sudden and brutal, demonstrated the relevance of École Polytechnique’s founding values: excellence and multidisciplinarity in education and research; responsibility and leadership, a commitment to the common good, discipline, team spirit and concern for others.


Less than five years after its launch, how is the Institut Polytechnique de Paris doing?

Eric Labaye - The lauch of IP Paris was announced by the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, in October 2017 with the ambition of creating an institution able to rivaliser avec the MIT or EPFL. We created it in just a few months with the five founding Schools (École polytechnique, ENSAE Paris, ENSTA Paris, Télécom Paris and Télécom SudParis) and positioned it from the outset as a world leader in science and technology.

IP Paris is ranked 38th worldwide (2nd France) among the world's top 1500 universities, 10th worldwide (1st France) for its reputation among employers and 34th worldwide (1st France) among the most international universities. IP Paris also ranks in the Top 30 universities in many disciplines: 14th in Mathematics, 21st in Engineering and Technology, 26th in Natural Sciences.

The organization or hosting of numerous prestigious scientific events, including the first two editions, in 2019 and 2023, of the REFLEXIONS international symposium devoted to the challenges of sustainable development, illustrates the national and international influence of École polytechnique and IP Paris.

The fact that leading politicians, business leaders, representatives of civil society and heads of international organizations have come to talk to students at L’X and IP Paris is further testimony to the reputation the two institutions.


What does the Institut Polytechnique de Paris represent in today's higher education environment, and how does it fit in?

Eric Labaye - Driven by a highly dynamic team, IP Paris has achieved a critical mass in terms of education, research (1,400 teacher-researchers) and innovation (around 100 start-ups a year).

It includes a graduate school with 700 masters students (+2 to 3% each year), a PhD track with 80 students, and 1,100 PhD students in the 32 laboratories that make up our research center. Six interdisciplinary centers addressing key societal issues have been launched: Energy for Climate (E4C) for the energy transition, Hi! Paris, dedicated to artificial intelligence and data analysis; the Center for Defense and Security (CIEDS), which aims to conduct cutting-edge scientific research in areas of interest to the French Defense; Engineering for Health (E4H), dedicated to biomedical engineering; Materials for Society (M4S), for research into innovative materials; and SPIRAL, which brings together the arts and sciences.

The research center is the bearer of future ambitions. It is governed by an international advisory board (ISAB). It encompasses 10 disciplinary departments and supports the contribution of the Institute's 30 thematic laboratories to cross-disciplinary projects.

To support its development, IP Paris has forged close ties with national research organizations to create strong partnerships (signing of a protocol with INRIA in 2021 to reinforce its leadership in digital and AI), as well as with Higher Education and Research institutions (partnership with HEC in 2019 and numerous scientific cooperations, notably with the Hadamard Foundation). The outlook now focuses on updating the joint strategy with the CNRS and work on a possible merger with École nationale des ponts et chaussées.

To ensure the long-term development of École Polytechnique and IP Paris, we needed to increase our resources. The School’s teams worked with the supervisory ministries on a principle of matching long-term public funding, proportional to the growth in project funding obtained. These "matching funds" are being implemented, and represent a paradigm shift in the funding approach that IP Paris needs to give itself the means to achieve its ambitions. 

Last but not least, a campus master plan has been drawn up in order to collectively design and build the campus in consultation with our stakeholders and partners. Real estate and urban development are now considered on a large scale to build a campus that is vibrant, attractive and sustainable.


You say that X has become a recognized multi-curriculum school. What does this statement mean ?

Eric Labaye - Since 2017 and the launch of the new programs - Bachelor, MSc&T, Executive Education -  there has been a shift in scale.

The Bachelor's enrolment has risen from 71 to 440393 in 2023, reaching the target of 160 students for the class of 2023. The Bachelor's program takes its graduates to some of the world's top universities, and today enjoys tremendous international recognition. An agreement has been signed with Columbia University for the creation of a joint Bachelor's/Master's degree in 2022.

As far as the MSc&T programs are concerned, enrolment has more than doubled over the period, tripling to 3650 students in 20232.

École Polytechnique has also launched a Data Science for Business double-diploma with HEC, ranked 3rd worldwide and 1st in Europe. In 2022, an "MSc in Cybersecurity" from the Institut Polytechnique de Paris was created in partnership with Orange.

Today, we are a recognized multi-curricular school. Our curricula now cover the entire spectrum of higher education and capitalize on enough years of existence to trigger an increase in numbers and quality conducive to attracting high profiles profiles students and academics.

Since 2018, the School has stepped up its internationalization, thanks in particular to the growth of its new programs: the proportion of international students has risen from 34% to 39%, confirming the attractiveness of these programs.


What has been the evolution of Ingénieur polytechnicien program, École Polytechnique historic curriculum, whose last major reform dates back to the early 2000s?

Eric Labaye - The School has also been working on the evolution of its Ingénieur polytechnicien program, with the aim of reinforcing the relevance of its training to maintain its level of excellence in the future, enhancing multidisciplinarity and continuing to modernize the academic approach by reinforcing new pedagogies, in particular through experimentation and practical application.

The Ingénieur polytechnicien program saw a slight increase in enrolment over the 2017-2022 period (2068 vs. 2124), and is continuing to open up to a wider range of profiles for both French and international students.

The historical tie between École Polytechnique and the French Ministry of the Armed Forces and the military status of Ingénieur polytechnicien program students sets it apart from the other engineering Schools. Its students are also strongly committed to the common good. This link was further demonstrated by the recent success of the 1st civil service employment forum for students, organized at École Polytechnique on April 11, 2023 and closed by Stanislas Guerini, the French Minister for Public Transformation and the Civil Service.

The School has also reaffirmed its ties with its supervisory body, confirming its unique position in the French engineering Schools landscape by launching the Interdisciplinary Center for Defense and Security (CIEDS) with the Institut Polytechnique de Paris, and by regularly welcoming top-level military speakers to its campus (notably the Chief of Staff of the Navy, Admiral Pierre Vandier, and the Chief of Staff of the French Army, General Pierre Schill). The evolution of the Ingénieur polytechnicien program also includes additional training in defense issues, so that students are exposed throughout their curriculum to the major challenges facing our sovereignty.


An ambitious goal has been set for École Polytechnique and IP Paris in the field of research, with the aim of joining the world's best institutions. What have been the results in this key area?

Eric Labaye - Over the past 5 years, research at l'X has developed strongly and achieved many successes, notably doubling the number of ERCs between 2018 and 2022 (8 in 2022) and the volume of scientific publications (from 1485 in 2018 to 2980 in 2021).

Academic teams have become highly internationalized with international staff increasing from 31% to 43% between 2017 and 2022.

The School is also honored to count two Nobel Prize winners among its professors: Gérard Mourou in 2018 and Alain Aspect in 2022.

Since the creation of IP Paris, École polytechnique's research strategy has been defined within the framework of the new institution. The creation of interdisciplinary centers at IP Paris represents a new paradigm for developing research aimed at meeting major economic and societal challenges, and cross-fertilizing research by encouraging École Polytechnique’s 23 laboratories to collaborate on cross-disciplinary subjects. Six centers have already been created.

A joint laboratory has been launched with Thales in 2022, HERACLES3, with the aim of developing cutting-edge technologies based on intense lasers, with the potential for major industrial, medical and scientific applications.

IP Paris was also a co-founder of the Paris Saclay Cancer Cluster, launched in February 2022, which aims to accelerate innovation in oncology to match the momentum of the Boston Biocluster (€100 million funding from France 2030).

To spread-out the results of its research, IP Paris launched a free digital magazine, Polytechnique Insights, in 2021, counting 500,000 readers and 45,000 subscribers.


What progress has been made in the School's third pillar, innovation and entrepreneurship?

Eric Labaye - During my term of office, a number of initiatives have been launched to accelerate innovation from École Polytechnique and IP Paris ecosystems.

The Drahi-X has been extended and now hosts 35 startups (+84% since 2022), and €1,168 million has been raised by the Polytechnique community.

To foster the emergence of Deeptech entrepreneurship, IP Paris has launched an annual call for premature projects since 2019: 45 initiatives have already been funded for a total of 3 million euros. This strategy has helped position École polytechnique and IP Paris as a major player in innovation in France and internationally: One third of French unicorns and 35% of the Next 40 start-ups have been created by our alumni or are coming from our ecosystem. Our start-ups are key players at major innovation events (21 X-IP Paris start-ups at VivaTech, Spring, CES).

X-Création, which aims to promote business start-ups in laboratories and facilitate the integration of start-up projects into the corporate world, has grown strongly. Its net assets have risen from around 500,000 euros in 2017 to over 1.6 million euros in 2022, with a portfolio of 35 holdings, and its dividends have helped to fund École polytechnique's operations.

The launch of the Polytechnique Ventures Fund by alumni also supports the development of startups in École polytechnique's innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Thirty-six million euros have already been raised, part of which has been invested in 7 startups!


École Polytechnique has a long tradition of commitment to the common good. What were the main areas you wanted to focus on in this respect?

Eric Labaye - I was particularly keen to fully commit the School to contributing to the transition to a more sustainable world.

In 2019, on the 225th anniversary of its creation, X has affirmed its ambition to integrate sustainable development as a paradigm in all its areas of activity. In line with this commitment, the School published in 2022 its Climate Plan presenting ten 5-year objectives grouped into 3 pillars: education and involvement ; research and innovation ;  sobriety and empowerment.

One year after the release of the Climate Plan, significant progress has been made on these 3 pillars, and the School has reduced its electricity consumption by 8% and its gas consumption by 12% between 2019 and 2022.

The Climate Plan Strategic Committee met in June 2023 with its Advisory Board to draw up an initial assessment of the actions implemented and delivered new perspectives and directions for further work.


Reinforcing social and gender diversity has also been an important focus of your term of office. What results have you achieved in this area? 

Eric Labaye - Following the report on strengthening social diversity, which was shared with our supervisory bodies in 2019, the School has stepped up its actions in this area and in favor of gender equality.

Operation Monge, during which students from the Ingénieur polytechnicien program present and promote scientific studies of excellence, and in particular engineering Schools, to high school students, now covers the whole country, with 450 high schools visited and 23,000 of their students being impacted . Mentoring and tutoring programs have also expanded.

The proportion of female students has risen from 22% in 2017 to 26% in 2022, mainly thanks to the growth in Bachelor's and MSc&T programs (33% female entrants in 2022). In 2022, the School celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of women's entry into its Cycle ingénieur polytechnicien program in the presence of the French Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne (X81). These celebrations also inspired many young women and strengthened the visibility and scope of our actions in favor of gender equality.

In 2023, the launch of the IP Paris Equal Opportunity Center will enable us to scale up again, reaching 100,000 young people every year. At the same time, IP Paris has created the Centre international de langue et culture françaises with the aim of promoting excellence for all international students and academics arriving on campus, in all aspects of their experience of French and Francophone language and culture.


Restoring X's financial equilibrium was one of the challenges of your term of office, following a report by the Cour des Comptes in 2020, which pointed to major efforts to improve the school's management. What is the school's current financial situation and operational efficiency?

Eric Labaye - When I came into office, the School had lost 15 million euros in 3 years, and the POC foresaw a 7 million euros drop in government funding. We've turned this around and have been breaking even for the past two years, with a cumulative positive balance of 4 million euros over 4 years. The School's financial management is now solid.

In 2019, the School identified the need to re-establish a subsidy level of government fundind equivalent to the existing level at the start of the 2017-2021 POC (10 million euros per year) to enable it to fulfill its missions on a sustainable basis. This work culminated at the end of 2020 with the vote of a balanced budget for 2021 and a government funding equivalent to the average amount of the 2006-2019 period.

At the same time, École Polytechnique has structured itself to improve its financial and human management and transform its administrative processes. A new financial information system was deployed in January 2022. Fine-tuning is ongoing but this new system will modernize the School's management over the coming years. The School has also been working on an Information System master plan aiming at xxx the best international standards by 2026.

The turnaround in the School's financial trajectory was secured in the preparation of the POC 2022-2026, enabling it to carry out renovation projects on its campus for a budget of 217 million euros, with funding from the State, the Ile-de-France Region and support from the European Investment Bank to the tune of 70 million euros.

This renovation is a unique opportunity. It represents a major challenge in terms of transforming the site materially and addressing the issues of decompartmentalization, links between teaching and research, openness and student well-being, and sustainability.


An important factor in restoring financial equilibrium has been the development of partnerships. How have you approached this aspect, which is now necessary to provide a higher education and research establishment with the means to fulfill its ambitions?

Eric Labaye - The five years of my mandate marked a turning point and enabled the School to become part of a rich ecosystem, with a strong development of relations with companies, national research organizations and the best higher education institutionts, to open up prospects and diversify sources of funding.

The School is also part of the national drive to nurture excellence and develop new skills and knowledge. It has responded to government calls for projects, including France 2030, on artificial intelligence, energy and healthcare.

With its IP Paris partners, 30 to 40 millions euros have been raised from companies in recent years, and more than 40 millions euros have been won through government calls for projects, including France 2030 (notably 7.8 millions euros for the AMI CMA IA, 28 millions euros for the Call for Projects ExcellenceS, 5.7 millions euros for the Call for Projects PUI).

The strength of the Polytechnic community remained undiminished, with renewed support from alumni relayed by the Foundation for the School's transformative projects.

The second fundraising campaign conducted between 2016 and 2020 raised 87 million euros from companies and individuals, enabling the launch and acceleration of some twenty projects serving the École's strategy of excellence and growth.

We have already raised almost 30 million since 2020 - including the Ifker Climate Fund. The ambition of the 3rd campaign has been set at 200 millions euros to contribute to the development strategy of X and IP Paris. The inclusion of the subsidiaries FX Conseil and X-Exed in a strategy to develop external resources also contributes to this objective.

I would like to thank all those who have worked to develop the School. The Board of Directors, our supervisory body, the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the Ministry of the Economy and Finance and, of course, the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, as well as all the driving forces behind the School: the academic and research teams, support staff, the students. I'm not forgetting the Polytechnic community as a whole, École Polytechnique’s Foundation (FX) and the Alumni Association (AX) for their support, and our many academic and industrial partners. Our combined efforts have made all these successes a reality, of which we can be collectively proud, and which will fuel and encourage the ambitions of École Polytechnique and IP Paris in the years to come.