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Supported by the city of Lille, the government and neighbouring states : training foremen who would go on to obtain the title of Industrial Engineers.
At the time, there was a difference between state engineers from the Ecole Polytechnique, the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées, the Mines de Paris, military schools, and civil engineers from the Ecole Centrale de Paris, de Lyon, Mines d'Alès, Saint-Etienne, etc. A High School diploma (Baccalauréat) was not required to enter this school, but admission was decided through tests of scientific subjects at Bachelor level. An essential part of training for these civil engineers from Lille was based on knowledge of steam engines. Practical training was administered in the school, and the faculty carried out teaching “at a higher but no less practical level” in Applied Mechanics in particular. All holders of the Mechanics Chair in the Science Faculty held a teaching post in this school.
Through an agreement signed on 5th October 1872 between the « Nord » region and the city of Lille, the « Institut Industriel Agronomique et Commercial du Nord » was born, taking up residence on a site in the rue Lombard which, until then, had been given over to the « Ecole Impériale des Mines et des Arts Industriels », fallen into decline the previous year.
The success of the Institut was rapid, and in 1873 the city of Lille offered 7716 m2 of land and the region promised to build the school at 17 rue Jeanne d’Arc, which opened in the new term of 1875. The Institut was considered to have sufficient standing to compete against the other “Grandes Ecoles” during the World Fair in 1878, and its results were so convincing that the jury awarded it a gold medal.
At that time, the Institut offered 3 types of teaching: Industry or Civil engineering, Agronomy and Business. Such was the great complexity in its organization that the Business school was abandoned in 1881, the Agronomy school in 1883 and the Mines section in 1889. Originally, the Institut included a Technology section which trained technicians over 3 years, and a Civil engineering section, which trained engineers, also over 3 years.
Both sections were distinguished by their initial T or G and the year number, a custom which continues to this day despite the disappearance of the Technology section in 1891 as it was too similar to the teaching at the “Ecole des Arts et Métiers”.
Despite the wartime period from 1914-1918, the I.D.N. continued to modernize.
At that time, the Institut offered 3 options: Mechanics, Chemistry, Spinning and Weaving. Since employment prospects for this latter were insufficient, the section was discontinued and replaced by “a new science which, though still young, has already accomplished such quick and tremendous progress: electricity” (Academic Board meeting of 20th July 1892).
However, it was only in 1913 that the I.D.N. Engineering Degree was officially recognized at a national level and signed by the Ministry of Trade.
The 1914-1918 war led to the occupation of the school by the Germans. Teaching began again (with 20 students) on 10th November 1915, but on 11th January 1916 the buildings suffered heavy damage following the explosion of a nearby munitions dump. This period was marked by many ups and downs, expulsion by the occupying troops, and lack of heating, during which time lessons were nevertheless given, mainly at the teachers’ homes. Thanks to the conduct of the staff, students and engineers of the Institut, the I.D.N. was awarded the medal of the “Croix de Guerre” with the citation “l’Ordre de l’Armée”. Between the wars, and despite the crisis, the I.D.N. continued to modernize by becoming associated with a Université du Travail (1926) and by merging with the institutes of the Faculté des Sciences (1930).
The IDN modernizes…
In 1937, the Training Committee introduced holiday work placements in industry. “The work placement report will be marked from 0 to 20 and transmitted for verification to the company concerned”. During the 1939-1945 war, the Institut was once again occupied by the German army. The year groups were reduced in number because of mobilization, captivity or forced labour.
Lectures and practical work continued nevertheless, thanks to the support of the Faculté des Sciences, the Ecoles des Arts et Métiers and the technical school. Many students and former students died, and in 1944 the Academic board decided to commemorate 3 of them by giving their names to the school’s 3 amphitheatres: Georges Poirier (IDN 1908, died in a German prison camp in 1944), Pierre Goubet (IDN 1920, shot by the Germans in 1944) and Jean Boda (student, died during deportation to Dachau in 1944). Following Liberation, and having repaired the damage caused in the laboratories and workshops, the School rapidly returned to normal.
The first year students followed a complementary university theoretical course (M.P.C.), a common-core second year, and a third year in one of 3 options: Electricity, Chemistry, and Mechanics. In the new term of 1949, a higher education reform transformed the M.P.C. from a “certificat de Licence” (Bachelor’s certificate) to a “certificat de Propédeutique” (university foundation course certificate). It was thus permitted to open up the entrance examination to M.P.C. students and also to students following preparatory classes for the nationwide competitive entrance examinations to the elite French institutes of higher education. The programme for the competitive examination rapidly became similar, then identical, to that in the preparatory classes.
From nationalization to the official new name: Ecole Centrale de Lille.
The School has always made it a point of honour to anticipate in its teaching the new techniques in industry, which is what led it to increase and enrich its basic options of Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Chemical Engineering. The Electricity option was reorganized in 1956 to become Electrical Engineering, then new options appeared: Automatic Control (1957), Computer Science (1958), Planning and Development (1967), Transport (1968), Industrial Data Processing (1981), Commercial Production (1984), Computer Engineering (1989) and finally Waves, Microelectronics and Micro technologies (1994).
The reputation of the I.D.N. led to a constant increase in the number of candidates for the entrance examination (1774 in 1971 – 5300 in 1985). Following very long and difficult negotiations begun in 1964, which saw the I.D.N. transferred to Villeneuve d’Ascq (1968) and become part of the competitive entrance examination common to the Ecoles Centrale of Paris and Lyon, the School was nationalized on 23rd April 1975. Among other benefits, this nationalization allowed the School to have permanent teachers, currently totalling 72, to ensure the students were adequately supervised. This did not prevent the I.D.N. from calling on outside competence: industrialists, university tutors and researchers, which brought the total number of teachers to 230.
Contacts made in 1990 between Centrale Paris, Centrale Lyon, Mécanique de Nantes and the I.D.N. led the 4 schools to sign the Charter of the “Intergroupe des Ecoles Centrale” on 5th December 1990, which defined the rules of collaboration between these schools. The main goals were to improve teaching and communication, as well as to defend the unique engineering title both in France and abroad. Through decree number 91-758 of 31st July 1991, the new name of Ecole Centrale de Lille became official, replacing the Institut Industriel du Nord.
In 1992, the Ecole Centrale de Lille acquired a completely new hall of residence with 581 places, allowing it to welcome its students in the best conditions.
The same year, a department of Computer and Industrial Engineering was created in Lens.
During the 90’s, many partnerships were formed with international higher education institutes, leading to double degree agreements. The activities carried out in the context of the Ecoles Centrales Group also multiplied, a sure sign of the ever increasing strength of the network outlook.
During the mid-nineties, Centrale Lille broke new ground in the field of teaching by both developing a project activity in the first and second year, and by becoming resolutely involved in entrepreneurship. Thus in 1999, Centrale Lille teamed up with Skema Business School and ENSAIT to create a specialized Master’s Degree in Business Creation and Entrepreneurship.
In 2002, Centrale Lille broke new ground again by launching, in partnership with Skema Business School (formerly ESC Lille), the “Engineer Manager Entrepreneur” programme taught by the Iteem department.
With a constant desire to adapt its teaching to technological evolutions as well as to industry’s expectations, Centrale Lille transformed the pedagogical structure of its 3rd year in 2003. From now on, this 3rd year would be composed of a subject-oriented field of study guaranteeing excellent scientific knowledge and skills, and of a professionally-oriented field of study offering the skills to make the young graduate engineers even more operational.
In 2005, the Ecoles Centrales Group, in order to prove the force of its activities overseas, opened the Ecole Centrale de Pékin (Beijing), with the University of Beihang, with the aim of training in 6 years bi-cultural engineers capable of adapting to French and European companies implanted in Asia.