Premier Campus workshop on the Reims campus of Sciences Po, February 2020

CIVICA students and PhDs open international perspectives to Sciences Po Premier Campus high school students


Fostering international ambitions before entering higher education: on Friday 26 February, 37 French high schoolers from Sciences Po’s Premier Campus programme participated in online discussions with student and PhD representatives from CIVICA universities across Europe.

The high school students were the last cohort of the Premier Campus programme of Sciences Po, an “incubator for academic success” that prepares students from priority high schools for their entry into university education. This most recent cohort, named after influential lawyer and feminist Gisèle Halimi, started into the Premier Campus programme in July 2019. The meeting with CIVICA students & PhDs was one of the concluding events of a journey of two years: four weeks of workshops, during which the high schoolers were able to train their academic and personal skills.

“We want to expand their knowledge, but also develop skills that are essential to succeed in higher education: written and oral expression, methodology, and abilities that will allow them to break self-censorship and chase after all their ambitions,” explains Karine Aurelia, Director for Equal Opportunity of Premier Campus.

The discussions with CIVICA students, which took place over Zoom, were an opportunity for the high schoolers to “open their eyes to international opportunities” and discover available programmes, all while practising their English. In the week preceding the discussions, they prepared diverse questions with the support of English teachers.

“I love languages, and I found it very enriching to discuss in English with a person from another nationality,” commented Hélène, a high school student in her final year. “I would like to study abroad, so it taught me a lot to be put in contact with a student from a CIVICA university.”

For Leslie, who would like to study international trade, meeting a CIVICA student who studies Business and Economics was inspiring. The high schooler already speaks three languages, and found that the Premier Campus programme helped improve her self-confidence, particularly in public speaking. “It brings out the person that is not yet revealed inside of me,” she said.

Students and PhD researchers who volunteered for this session came from the European University Institute, Central European University, the Hertie School, the Stockholm School of Economics and Bocconi University. Oisin Nolan, an Irish national who studied in Belgium and the UK and is now doing a Master’s in Vienna at CEU, joined the event hoping to give the high school students “a bit of motivation and excitement about the possibilities in the future” in a time where studying remotely can seem grim.

“I talked a lot about other opportunities and places where they could consider studying apart from France, and I also talked a bit about scholarship opportunities because it’s something I’ve been able to take advantage of over the past few years,” he explains. He found the students to be particularly interested in the different styles of learning and approaches to education he experienced.

For European University Institute PhD researcher Michelle Graabek, who is originally from Denmark and previously studied in the UK, opportunities like Premier Campus are important at high school level: “I remember when I was in high school, I didn’t really know what options were out there,” she says: “it is important so that you have an idea and make the right university choices.”

Nina Rosstalnyj, a German master’s student at CEU, emphasised how important her experiences abroad had been for her: an Erasmus year in Romania and an internship in Ukraine were essential to her understanding of how international relations and political science are taught in different countries.

Meeting CIVICA students and PhD researchers from across Europe represented a first encounter with social sciences at a European scale for the French high school students. As they are required to submit their university applications, having concrete examples of diverse international academic careers is important, explains Karine Aurelia: “These are projects that can mature over time, but thanks to the teaching staff and the CIVICA student ambassadors, they now know these opportunities are there.”

With this last of three cohorts now applying for their studies of choice, the Premier Campus experiment comes to an end after 3.5 years of preparing high schoolers for university education. With the contribution of CIVICA, Sciences Po hopes to propose similar opportunities geared towards Europe in the new “Premier Campus Sciences Po” workshops that will take place in priority high schools from September 2021: meetings with European students, conferences in English and general knowledge training will be on the programme. “I would be very happy to know that other universities also offer this international experience to students,” said high schooler Hélène, “because the skills we learnt are really incredible.”

Read more about CIVICA's activities for high schools here>>


Written by Julie Bourdin (Sciences Po)

Photo: in-person workshop of Premier Campus, held in February 2020 on the Reims campus; credit: Sciences Po