ENTITIES AND PUBLIC POLICIES
19 octobre 2017
AND ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION
A controversial system calling for reform
Admission post-bac (post-high school admission, or APB) is a public digital platform
used by high school graduates to submit applications with a view to entering first-year
courses in higher education. It contains two algorithms: an allocation algorithm, which
cross-references the preferences of schools
and applicants, and a ranking algorithm,
which attributes an order of priority to applications to bachelor courses.
The operating methods of APB, which lack transparency and fail to comply with the
education code, highlight inconsistencies in the conditions of access to bachelor
courses at universities. APB constitutes a useful technical step forward but today is
quite rightly criticised and needs to be reformed.
Useful innovation, unsatisfactory results
APB helped to improve the higher education admission process by grouping dispersed
procedures in a single location and calendar. It simplifies the applications process for high
school graduates and fosters equal access to education. For schools, it optimises the quality
of the students recruited and maximises the use of available places, while expanding their
recruitment pool. Operating the IT resource costs less tha
n €1 million a year.
But no explicit public decisions have been made concerning the APB system. High school
graduates know very little about its exact role or the distinction between the respective
decisions of the selecting schools and the algorithms. To make things clearer, a training policy,
currently inexistant, and targeted communication are required.
Highlighting inconsistencies in bachelor degree access conditions
The allocation algorithm is particularly adapted to managing admissions for courses with a
limited amount of places (referred to in French as
), but is not adapted to
universities, which do not review applications. The algorithm attributes a ranking to each
application, serving to exclude applicants whose ranking is superior to the places available.
Until the 2016 school year, the ranking was based on criteria that are not compliant with law.
Where the criteria used are unable to decide between applicants, the system resorts to a
random draw. The French government was formally notified by the National Commission for
Information Technologies and Civil Liberties, CNIL, in particular as regards decision-making
with no human intervention and the lack of transparency.
By centralising and harmonising prior practices, APB has shed greater light on the pressures
involved in accessing higher education
a problem whose main causes elude the system
issue has become more critical given the gradual increase in the number of high-school
graduates and the limits set on the number of places in university courses, which has led to an
increasingly frequent mismatch between the number of applications and the places available
for certain degree courses.
The failings of APB, stemming not from technical issues but from legal provisions and political
decisions, need to be corrected. The regulation criteria enshrined in the education code are ill
adapted to undergraduate courses and need to be further specified and supplemented. The
allocation procedure requires a clear and robust legal foundation specifying its object, scope
and operating methods.
The procedure, coordinated by the French ministry, is based on an IT tool managed by a
higher education institution, Institut National Polytechnique (INP) in Toulouse. The relationship
between the ministry and INP is governed by relatively few formal guidelines but is
characterised nevertheless by closeness, responsiveness and moderate cost, which should be
maintained. But it is the state that should be directly responsible for the management of the
In accordance with the Digital Republic Bill, the government should improve understanding of
how the algorithms work and organise controlled and secure access to the source codes and
data. This would serve to restore confidence in the tool and develop new functionalities of
benefit to users.
The Cour des Comptes has drafted eight recommendations aimed in particular at clarifying
legal provisions on access to higher education, improving the transparency of the allocation
system and support for the individuals involved, redefining the scope of the system and
reorganising its management.
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