École normale supérieure de Lyon

L'École normale supérieure de Lyon (also known as ENS de Lyon, ENSL or Normale Sup' Lyon) is a French public institution of higher education and research located in Lyon, France. It is one of France's four highly selective écoles normales supérieures, training teachers and researchers.

École normale supérieure de Lyon
MottoL'enseignement par la recherche, pour la recherche
Motto in English
Education through research, for research
TypeGrande école (École normale supérieure)
Established1880, 2010 in its current form
Budget130 million[1]
PresidentJean-François Pinton[2]
Academic staff

45.729734°N 4.826875°E / 45.729734; 4.826875
Colours     Red
AffiliationsUniversity of Lyon

As of 2017, the ENS de Lyon is one of the top-ranked grandes écoles in France, along with École Normale Supérieure (Paris) and École Polytechnique. According to 2016 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, ENSL was the 5th best "small university" in the world.[4]


Training teachers for normal schools

L'École normale supérieure de Lyon is the descendant of two top educational institutions founded by Jules Ferry:

  • L'École normale supérieure de Fontenay-aux-Roses, for girls, founded in 1880.
  • L'École normale supérieure de Saint-Cloud, for boys, founded in 1882.

Recruiting the most brilliant students among all French normal schools, these two "superior normal schools" aimed to train the future teachers of the primary schools' academic personnel. Whereas these schools were largely regarded as meritocratic, their sisters - the eldest, l'École Normale Supérieure de la Rue d'Ulm, and her feminine counterpart, l'École normale supérieure de jeunes filles de Sèvres -, which trained High school professeurs and academics, were de facto dedicated to the heirs of the Parisian elites.

A shift towards secondary and higher education

Following the decline of normal schools and a reform of national education, the decree of February 19, 1945 granted both institutions the title of Écoles normales préparatoires à l'enseignement secondaire. The Schools' purpose changed in the context of a secondary system democratisation. By 1956, the length of studies was increased to four years in order to institute a preparation for the agrégation - a prestigious teaching qualification. Increasingly opening up to research, they aligned their development strategies with those of the ENS Ulm and Sèvres.

The relocation in Lyon

As part of France's process of decentralisation, the Schools' scientific departments moved in 1987 to Gerland, a former Lyon's industrial district, in the premises of the current Monod campus. The relocated institution was named École normale supérieure de Lyon. Humanities students remained in the Paris region within the coeducational École normale supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud. In 2000, this school, informally renamed École normale supérieure lettres et sciences humaines, was transferred to the new Descartes Campus also located in Gerland.

On the first of January 2010, the two branches merged to become a single institution, retaining the name École normale supérieure de Lyon.[5]


Teaching at the ENS de Lyon is organised through eleven main departments, spread over the two campuses:

Monod Campus: Natural and Experimental Sciences Departments

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Earth Science
  • Mathematics
  • Physics

Descartes Campus: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Departments

  • Arts: Musicology, Cinema and Theater studies, Classics and modern French Literature
  • Education and digital humanities
  • Foreign Languages, Literatures and Civilizations: Arabic, Chinese, English, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian
  • Human Sciences: Philosophy, Cognitive science and Anthropology
  • Social Sciences: International studies, Political science, Sociology, Economics, History and Geography


23 of ENSL's research groups have contractual ties to major research organizations, notably the CNRS and INSERM. ENSL is a member of several advanced research networks and competitive clusters, including Lyon BioPôle, and hosts an Institute for Advanced Study, the Collegium de Lyon.


  • Institute of Functional Genomics of Lyon (IGFL)
  • Laboratory of molecular and cell biology (LBMC)
  • Laboratory of plant reproduction and development (RDP)
  • Laboratory of human virology (VIRO)
  • Laboratory of Earth Sciences (LST)
  • Joliot-Curie interdisciplinary laboratory (LJC)
  • Laboratory of Pure and Applied Mathematics (UMPA)
  • Laboratory of chemistry
  • Computer science laboratory (LIP)
  • Laboratory of physics
  • Astronomy research center (CRAL)
  • Center for high field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (CRMN)


  • C2SO - Communication, culture and society
  • Institute for the History of Classical Thought, from Humanism to the Enlightenment
  • Institute of East Asian Studies (IAO)
  • Interactions, Corpuses, Learning and Representations
  • Interdisciplinary approach to the logics of power in medieval Iberian societies
  • Literature, Ideologies and Représentations in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
  • Rhône-Alpes Centre for Historical Research
  • Socialisation Research Group
  • Triangle: Action, Discourses, Economic and Political Thought
  • History and Archaeology of the Medieval Christian and Islamic Worlds
  • Economic Theory and Analysis Group



ENSL retains its close links to the classes préparatoires which prepare high-level students - previously selected on the basis of their academic record - for the competitive entrance examination that is taken after two years of pluridisciplinary undergraduate-level study.

Students who succeed in the entrance examinations, which attract some 6000 candidates for 228 positions, are known as normaliens-élèves; those who are from France or another European Union country are considered trainee public servants, and receive a salary for their studies during 4 years. A second entrance examination is also open to students who have not gone through the classes préparatoires system.

In return of their salary, they have to serve in public services for 10 years.


Entry to ENSL is not restricted to normaliens-élèves. Students may also apply through a separate admissions process based on application file in order to study at the ENSL. The normaliens-étudiants are not public servants, but their formation and diploma are the same as those of the normaliens-élèves.

Auditeurs de masters

An auditeur de master is someone who has been admitted at the ENSL at the master level. By opposition to the normaliens-élèves and the normaliens-étudiants, they don't have the title of Normalien and are just eligible to a master's degree. They can't obtain the ENSL diploma.


First year

Students prepare the third year of Licence, the equivalent of a UK Bachelor's degree. The ENS de Lyon offers numerous courses which are conceived as preparations for Masters.

Second and third years

Students prepare in two years their Master's degree. 5 research Masters are proposed in Sciences, 36 in Humanities.

Fourth year

During this year, students can prepare the agrégation teacher recruitment examination in 16 different subjects. Students can also start their PhD, go studying for one year or more in a foreign country, or follow during one year courses in other subjects.

Gap years

Between the first and fourth year, normaliens can also spend up to 2 free years called années sans solde, during which they can study other disciplines or do a long internship, sometimes in foreign countries. Each année sans solde project needs the approval of the ENSL supervisors.

Doctoral studies

The ENS de Lyon welcomes over 400 PhD students from all over the world.[6] Normaliens can apply to specific doctoral contracts, as long as the thesis is undertaken within a French research institution.


The 2016 QS World University Rankings[7] ranked ENSL 177th university in the world.

However, international rankings do not suit well the French academic system, where research organizations are often independent from universities.[8] Moreover, the ENS are small institutions favouring education quality rather than research productivity. For instance, some French universities are better ranked than the ENS, even though the different écoles normales supérieures are considered to be among the highest French academic institutions due to their endowment, prestige and selectivity.[9]


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