Xavier Niel, the massively present head of French ISP company Free, has just set up a new school for computer geeks. There is a clear need for one, as France (and much of the rest of the world too!) is suffering from a shortage of highly capable programmers. So, the solution is: start your own school While he was at it, Xavier made a few digs at the French education system (an easy target, but worth attacking nevertheless) and the French government, some of whose members have recently attacked him for supposedly devastating the telecoms sector - a separate discussion largeley covered in the French press.
Xavier's school will be free and open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 30 who is very keen on computing. The selection process is not based on any qualifications of any kind, nor getting favourable reports from teachers. It is aimed at picking up young people whom the educational system has failed. Candidates will have to take an online test. Then around 4,000 candidates will be selected to take part in one of four month long hothouses this summer, where they will be in an environment conducive to group working on projects, expecting to work up to 15 hours a day in true geek fashion. The best 1000 will then go on to take a three year stint at the new school, beginning in November.
Xavier has invested €70 million of his own money in this venture: €20 million start up costs and €50 million to cover ten years of running. He is no doubt hoping that other investers wil also chip in.
This is not Niel's first forray into the realm of education. Last year he was one of the founders of an institute for training webmasters. But that is much smaller, fee-paying and slanted to web content.