Jan Schakel in Rennes – Part 2

So, pronouncing and understanding French words in an English way and visa versa can be rather tricky. Moreover, because in France they try to keep their language ‘clean and pure’, so you can not use or pronounce words like computer, laptop or cell phone in French or in a French way (you have to know that they’re called ordinateur, portable, etc). The more surprising it is to find out that words in French sometimes do have the same meaning and structure as for example in Dutch. The English word ‘data’ for example is in Dutch ‘gegevens’, and in French ‘données’. These words have exactly the same structure, which might be caused by it’s origin: a positivistic way of thinking in both cultures. In my workshop “How to tackle reality and complexity” I could make clear to the audience that facts and data or ‘no gift from nature’, and that they or not ‘given to us’, but that it is mankind who takes information from nature in an active way and in this process it creates and constructs fact and data. So no ‘gegevens’ or ‘données’ at all!

Not only knowledge of languages is important to ‘survive’ in a different country (like knowing the difference between chamber, salle and bureau…), but also insight in their cultural and institutional history. I do work almost ten years now within an international framework on education (like IMRD, Erasmus Mundus, Intensive Programs), so I’m rather familiar with differences in educational systems between and within the European countries. But again I was too biased when I tried to understand what’s going on here in Agrocampus Ouest. For example: courses can last over 6 month, and the only way to understand the course and to get access to the content of it, is to join (‘assister’) the course. There are (hardly) any course outlines, no books, no readers, etc. Everything is taking place within the classroom and students have class during the whole day (2 x 4 hours), during the whole week, and this last week after week after week… So the professor himself is very important; not only in research but also in education. He is the authority, and the student really serves his apprenticeship with the professor. The French word for education is ‘formation’ –like word ‘vorming’ in Dutch- and indeed this educational system forms and shapes the student in a traditional way.

Another interesting phenomenon is the way how candidates are selected (‘concours’) when a vacancy for a permanent position has to be filled, for example to become an assistant professor. Part of the procedure is a so called ‘concours’, where the candidates have to present a paper and defend it in public!  This presentation is not just a ‘public lecture’ (like in the Dutch procedure to select a candidate to become a full professor is more or less standard), but it is much more then that. It can even be compared with a PhD defence. 24 hours before the presentation, the candidates will get an assignment to work out within one day! Within these 24 hours they can take as much help and assistance(-s) as they want, but the presentation and  the defence has to be done by the candidate himself. So you can work like hell for 24 hours to be better informed then your opponents, but the you might be too tired to survive in an intellectual debate. I know that there is a lot of stress on the candidates by this procedure, because next week a ‘concours’ take place within the group I’m working with (DERG: Département Economie Rurale et Gestion) and I know one of the candidates very well….

Another thing that is hard to understand (here in Rennes), is the differences between universities and ‘Ecoles National Superieur’, and so the differences between the degrees of these two institutes. In Holland the differences were not always very clear either, I must admit. What for example was the difference between a ‘drs’ (university), an ‘ir’ (hogeschool or ‘technical university) and a ‘ing’ (professional education)? And even the actual system in Bachelors-, Masters- and PhD degrees is rather confusing because of the differences in levels (is it a professional or an academic Master; is it a Master of Science or a Master in Art, etc). That also isn’t always easy to explain to foreigners! (by the way, the same confusion arises when we talk about research; research within DLO and within the WU -although both a part of one WUR- differs in many ways. Or not? Who tells?).

I do understand the historical roots of both French institutes by now, and I know that both prepare students for completely different positions, but on the same hand Agrocampus Ouest offers a diploma in terms of Master of Science, as well as an Ingénierie degree. Although some courses are meant for both programs, the structure of the program (curriculum) differs strongly. Also the way to become a diploma either in MSc or Ingénierie are different: to become a title at the Ecole National Superieur, you have to pass a selection (again a ‘concours’) which is really tough and takes 2 years of very intensive training and many, many classes. Once being selected, the next three years are more convenient, and has a lot of ‘practical’ courses (like work experience and an internship of 6 month). The Bachelor-Master way to become a MSc degree looks more like the Dutch system, although there is no Bachelors in Agronomics in Rennes; just a Master. To enter the master in Rennes (at the Agrocampus), student must have a bachelor in Biology or so.

OK; next time I will come back on the problem of complexity and multi-disciplinarity; the main reason why I went to Rennes and I wanted to ‘assiter’ in their ‘formation’.

Prof. Yann,

Jan Schakel, Visiting lecturer Departement Economie Rurale et Gestion,

Enseignant de la Spécialisation Génie de l’environnement, 

du Master professionnel Sciences Agronomiques et Agroalimentaires, spécialité Ingénierie Environnementale et du master IMRD, labellisé Erasmus Mundus 

Agrocampus-Ouest. Centre de formation de Rennes
65 rue de St Brieuc – CS 84215 – 35042 RENNES CEDEX – France 

Batiment 25, bureau 1.2 


1 thought on “Jan Schakel in Rennes – Part 2

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