The École normale supérieure (ENS) is a grande école, meaning it is outside the mainstream public university system in France. ENS is based in Paris and was originally conceived during the French Revolution, to provide the fledgling French Republic with a new body of professors, trained in the critical spirit and secular values of the Enlightenment.
Providing a platform for students to pursue careers in government and academia is still its priority, and during their studies some ENS students actually hold the status of paid civil servants. Its alumni have gone on to make a significant contribution to the fields of science, math and philosophy. They include Louis Pasteur, the chemist who evented pasteurization, the feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir, and world-renowned thinker Michel Foucault.
The school is small and selective: there are only 2,400 students in total, with 400 undergraduates, and 1,400 academic members of staff. The core student body, called normaliens,