Students are shaking up major schools on climate issues

Faced with the mobilization of their students, the Grandes Ecoles integrate climate and sustainable development issues into their education.

The video was widely shared on social media. Last April, while graduating from AgroParisTech, eight students from the school of agricultural engineering called on other students to “leave” the course and rejected training that would urge “to participate in the ongoing social and environmental devastation”. Other speeches were noticed during the year-end ceremonies of several major schools, such as HEC or Polytechnique.

Aside from the eruptions, more and more students of the Grandes Ecoles are speaking out to promote climate issues in their education – environmental associations have multiplied within these schools in recent years. An increasingly strong internal mobilization that encourages the study programs to adapt to the ambitions of their students. Nearly 30,000 students, mostly engineers, have joined the collective “For an ecological awakening” since it was founded in 2018.

“It’s a life-saver,” assures Philippe Drobinski, research director at the CNRS, climatologist and professor at the Ecole polytechnique. “It is important that this generation, which will be badly affected by climate change, can express its concerns and wake up the socio-economic world and its future employers,” he continues.


At Polytechnique, the number of students taking courses on climate issues, which have been taught for twenty years, has doubled in five years. After adding some masters dedicated to these subjects, the school will also offer a “certification” in sustainable development at the beginning of the school year: the aim is that a student who has chosen a different course, such as finance, can acquire skills in issues related to climate and sustainable development and implement them in their future professional careers.

New courses, new course modules, seminars and conferences… the Grandes Ecoles try to meet the demand. But according to the Shift Project think tank, in 2019 only 26% of technical education on energy and climate issues was required. Office of Engineering Students (BNEI) and student at INSA Rennes.

“It is difficult for a school to switch subjects quickly and the schedule of technology students is very busy, it is not possible to add new subjects. It is then necessary to integrate climate issues into the courses that are already being taught, but that raises the question of teacher education,” she explains.

“View priorities”

Ordinary schools are also concerned. The young association Effisciences published a column in May in The world, signed by students from Ulm, Lyon, Rennes and Saclay, calling for “revision of priorities” in the choice of research topics. “We want to propose a new approach that is not only guided by curiosity, but that would start from priority problems to find research topics in neglected areas” such as climate, but also pandemics, artificial intelligence or poverty, explains Tom David, student and member from Effisciences.

We need to “rethink our choice of internships, our career choices,” he adds. “This is not to say that something like this is good and that it isn’t, but to ask ourselves where we can have the most impact to be effective,” continues Tom David, depicting the contrast between “changing things from within and change outside”. According to the student, the platform was fairly well received by the management of the regular schools. The association hopes to be able to set up courses or courses together with the branches at the beginning of the school year.

Jeremy Bruno BFMTV journalist

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