HEC Paris, France’s most prestigious business school, is to seek autonomy from the Paris Chamber of Commerce, which governs and finances the school. The move will reduce the chamber’s votes on the board from 100 to 51 per cent.

The move will require a change in the law, says HEC dean Bernard Ramanantsoa, which means it is unclear when the changes will come into effect. But once the law is enacted, it will apply to all French business schools in a similar position.

The French Grande Ecole system, which accounts for all France’s elite business and engineering schools, has traditionally been run independently of the French university system. In particular the business schools have insisted on competitive entry examinations, and usually charge higher fees.

The top business schools have been supported by the local chambers of commerce, though increasingly the schools have had to rely on course fees to cover their costs as the income to the local business bodies has declined. However, the Paris Chamber of Commerce is well-known for its extensive property portfolio, both in Paris and overseas.

Prof Ramanantsoa says that before the changes in governance are agreed, the school has to agree on the continued future funding of the school with the chamber.

The move comes at the same time as two further changes in the French business and higher education systems. First, the Chambers of Commerce across France are being merged into larger units. In the Paris region this will mean that Essec, HEC’s biggest rival, will join HEC and ESCP Europe as part of the same chamber of commerce.

Second, there are plans for French universities and business schools to work more closely together. HEC is part of group of more than 20 institutions that will form University Paris Saclay. The new group is expected to be formed officially in 2014.


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