The preparatory classes are no longer quite the royal road. The numbers, at least, suggest a loss of attractiveness. Over ten years, their numbers have certainly increased by 4%, from 79,800 to 83,400 students. But this progression occurs in a much more dynamic demographic context, since at the same time, the total number of students jumped by 25 points. And the statistics for the start of the 2021 school year hardly encourage optimism, with a 1.8% drop in the number of preparatory enrollments, an even more pronounced drop in the first year (– 2.5%).
→ PRACTICAL. Parcoursup: start of the main admission phase
In question, an overhaul of economic and commercial preparations, poorly known, in particular for lack of open days due to the pandemic. But also the reform of the baccalaureate, which did not keep mathematics in the common core. “Bachelor’s graduates who have not taken the maths specialty cannot join our courses”, confirms Alain Joyeux, president of the Association of teachers of economic and commercial preparatory classes.
At the end of January, all the learned societies and math associations had also given the alert: “Only 25% of girls in 2021 have a mathematics education of more than six hours per week compared to 45% before the reform. » This limits the access of girls to certain higher education courses, in particular to scientific preparatory courses, where they represent only three out of ten students.
Competition from bachelors created by the Grandes Ecoles
But the causes of the relative lack of love for the prepas are much broader. “Even though these classes still offer the best access to our Grandes Ecoles, we have greatly diversified our recruitment,” explains Romain Soubeyran, Managing Director of CentraleSupélec and Chairman of the Upstream Commission of the Conference of Grandes Ecoles. “In my establishment, the additional places created in recent years have greatly benefited candidates from a license or a DUT. Different profiles but of a level equivalent to that of comrades out of a preparation. »
These grandes écoles, in management as in engineering, have also multiplied the opening of new diplomas, the bachelors, accessible from the baccalaureate, for registration fees that can exceed €10,000 per year. “They offer, generally in three years, a more practical training, which then makes it possible to enter the labor market or to continue studies”, says Sophie Laborde-Balen, founder of the orientation support network Ton avenir. “We did not follow the Grande Ecole curriculum, but we have the Polytechnique or ESCP Europe brand on our CV. »
These courses now compete with the prepas. Like the integrated preparatory courses and the double licenses, which allow you to study at university in a privileged setting, within a small group of handpicked students. Similarly, as Alain Joyeux observes, “it is no longer rare for excellent students, from well-to-do families, to leave directly after the baccalaureate in English, American or Canadian universities”.
“Not really in tune with the times”
Aware of this new deal, the public authorities are looking for countermeasures. With, for example, the creation of “multidisciplinary cycles of higher education” (CPES), like the one proposed by Henri-IV and the University of Paris Sciences & Lettres. A three-year course taught first in high school and then in PSL universities and colleges. “This model combines the best of preparatory classes with the best of university”, greets Charline Avenel, rector of Versailles. As of the next school year, a new CPES could see the light of day in its academy, the result of a partnership between the University of Paris-Saclay, the international school of Palaiseau (Essonne), HEC, Polytechnique and the ENS.
→ MAINTENANCE. “Preparatory classes remain a place of stress”
If some do not fill up, the classic preparations, they have not said their last word, wants to believe Alain Joyeux. “They continue to bring a method, an organization, a capacity for useful work throughout life”, praises the teacher. But perhaps they are no longer in tune with the times, notes Sophie Laborde-Balen. “Weakened by the Covid, young people listen to each other more. Many refuse to join a training they imagine stressful. They no longer see themselves putting two years of their lives on hold. »
“Integrated preparation, in a spirit of mutual aid”
Sophie Delpierredirector of studies on the Lille campus of ICAM
“For decades, our engineering school has offered on four of its sites (Lille, Nantes, Toulouse and Lieusaint, in Seine-et-Marne) integrated or more precisely “associated, established” preparation courses. Teachers from partner high schools teach the first two years of our five-year course within our walls. Their courses respect the Physics, technology and engineering sciences program as defined in the Official Bulletin, and enriched with a pedagogy of discernment specific to our Jesuit establishment. All you have to do is validate the modules to move on to the next year. There is no competition after two years. The students are therefore not competitors, but work in a spirit of mutual aid. »