France is to create a grande école — an élite higher-education institution — dedicated to the Internet, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced last week. It will begin teaching courses in fields from computer science to electronic commerce next year.

The ‘Grande École de l'Internet’ will be near Marseilles — joining a ‘technopole’ of existing technology-orientated businesses and institutions. Its running costs, estimated at about FF60 million (US$8.2 million) each year, will be shared by the government, the University of Aix-Marseille, two grandes écoles organizations — the Groupe des Écoles des Télécommunications (GET) and Les Écoles des Mines — and private industry.

One of the new institution's tasks is to redress the country's shortage of computer engineers — projected to reach 60,000 by 2005, according to Claude Guéguen, the scientific director of GET. Jospin's research, technology and space adviser, Bertrand Mabille, says: “It's a real problem to find enough people to work in the industry, especially in start-up technology companies.”

The two-year programme will be open to students who have completed master's-level work at engineering schools and universities, or who have completed their first year at a grande école of engineering.

Gilles Kahn, scientific director of INRIA, France's computing research agency, welcomes the new grande école, but says much more is needed.

“We can't content ourselves with creating this one institution,” he says. “We must make efforts across the board to improve technology education.”