French universities argue over Sorbonne title

“French universities squabble over who has rights to Sorbonne”

The Times has a fascinating report on a dispute among French universities over who has the rights to use the title Sorbonne:

Fights over the Sorbonne, the seat of learning on the Paris Left Bank, usually involve students, riot police and ideology. The latest, however, is among rival chancellors and the city council. This time the stakes are for big money. The dispute is over the right to the name Sorbonne. At least six different universities are locked in a squabble for the brand, which in the eyes of foreigners — but not the French — has a prestige on a par with Oxford or Harvard. While US and British universities have marketed their brands, the underfunded and strike-prone universities of Paris woke up late to the value of the name they share. The trouble began when one of them, Paris IV Sorbonne, opened a branch in Abu Dhabi in 2007 and sold exclusive rights in the Middle East to the name “Paris Sorbonne”.

So far, so bad. But it gets worse:

Now everyone is following suit. About 70 versions of the Sorbonne brand have been registered by six universities, the Mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, and commercial enterprises. The feud took off last year when the universities began banding together with President Sarkozy’s encouragement to create centres of excellence. The state will spend hundreds of millions of euros on the chosen few. Mr Delanoë pointed out that the Sorbonne building belonged to the council. The university bosses and the mayor held a peace meeting last week, agreeing that all Paris universities were heirs to the name and could use variants. But the battle is not over.

Perhaps naively I had assumed that there was just one Sorbonne and that there was some form of regulation in France similar to that in the UK which would prevent this kind of confusion over university titles and names. Evidently not. This sort of dilution of what should be a really prestigious brand can’t do anyone any favours. But it’s pretty difficult to see how they are going to resolve this easily.

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