INTERVIEW with Samuel Guérineau: "Changing the world and caring for others"

Published on July 27, 2023 Updated on July 27, 2023

on the March 7, 2022

Interview with the Dean of the School of Economics, Université Clermont Auvergne

Interview with Samuel Guérineau: "Changing the world and caring for others" 

Tell us about your career path.

I grew up in the French Department of Maine-et-Loire, with a small but important interlude, at Hyères in the Paris region. Following an undergraduate degree at the University of Angers, I applied for the Senior professional diploma in Economie Development at Clermont-Ferrand. This was the only course in France on the subject. In fact, a friend told me: ''You have to do that, it will suit you." I was interested in the economies of developing countries. My friend was more proactive than me in discovering this course, and I can't thank him enough. I was accepted here and never left. I arrived in Clermont Ferrand for my Bachelor' s degree, I did the 3 years of Senior professional diploma, then I followed on with a PhD and was recruited as a lecturer. I gradually took on responsibilities at CERDI until I was elected Dean 3 years ago. 

What are your research topics? 

I work in financial macroeconomics. ln concrete terms: this relates to financial systems, banks and the financing of aid. What is special for developing countries, apart from "market" financing, is that there is a whole series of funding aimed at providing development aid. I study broad financing issues, monetary policy, and exchange rates. My PhD focused on these questions, but in the context of China. Then, as a lecturer, I expanded my questions. 

I chose these research topics due to a combination of factors, including two teachers who played a very strong role. Especially since being interested in currency is not the most fun thing when you study development economics. You might be better studying poverty or migration, which are more attractive subjects. That said, there are also public finances (laughs). For currency, I had a teacher in Angers whom I adored. And then a second teacher, Sylviane Guillaumont. I had her for my professional diploma, then, I chose her as my thesis supervisor. 

After my PhD, I applied for several jobs, at OFCE, at Alternatives Économiques. I had several leads. It is true that there are not many positions for lecturers. There are still some job opportunities in economics. I searched for a year. Then a job opened. I fitted the profile. I had done my thesis on China. It was a time when there was a lot of desire to develop research on China, it corresponded perfectly to the needs of CERDI at the time. 

What are the advantages of CERDI? 

The international recognition of CERDI. We recruit very good students each year. We also recruit very good lecturers, ensuring high-quality lessons. This also has repercussions on evaluations. They should not be based solely on cramming, even though we still have some progress to make in this respect. And this also has a huge impact in terms of finding a job. When I arrived, there was only one senior professional diploma. Since then, a number of new Master's degree courses have been created. Whatever the title of the Master's degree, the CERDI name is a passport. The name has a true impact. It is a gateway. It is a huge asset. The students claim "we are Cerdians, we graduated from CERDI". This is a great advantage. Particularly within CERDI Alumni, which we are developing a little more now. 

We also have many doctoral students. This is yet another advantage. The doctoral students teach the Bachelor's and Master's degree courses. We can mobilize them. The master's students interact with the doctoral students, this is very important. There is also our international openness. Half of our students come from abroad. When you spend two or three years with half a class of foreign students, you learn a lot. It is very rewarding! 

As for our lecturers, 90% chose to be in Clermont-Ferrand. This creates a dynamic in the small ecosystem that has grown around CERDI. Since its creation, FERDI, with Patrick Guillaumont, has played a key role in communication and international influence. It is very complementary with CERDI. 

Over time, we have made ourselves known. We have responded to multiple calls for tenders and funding (Labex ISite). The Labex helps us finance things for which we otherwise wouldn't have the money. And FERDI helps us gain access to a network, because it is a think tank which is making itself known everywhere, and we must further strengthen this work. This creates an enabling environment. We remain modest in size, but we weigh more than the 1000 students of the School of Economics. 

For you what is the "CERDI spirit"? 

The first element is that people who come to CERDI say to themselves: "We can help change the world. There is no reason not to, we can change things". This is very clear for many international students. They want to contribute to improve the economic conditions of their countries. French students also come to work with the idea that we can change things from very different perspectives. Some, though they are not in the majority, come saying "development is business, but it can also be used to change things". There is one common denominator to all our graduation classes: changing the world and caring about others - the desire to help. It is not simply a vision of technological progress, but also of changing the world by correcting inequalities a little. This combination of motivations means that we have historically had an over-representation of women at CERDI. 

The second element is the duration of training. The course last 3 years with the same group. There are a few inflows and a few outflows. The small group creates strong bonds. Scattered all over the world, they are always happy to meet again. They feel like they belong to a community, which has lived and evolved a little like a family. Indeed, we have often been seen as a little detached from the faculty, a little arrogant! Because we were really apart! 

We also share global considerations. This is a major common point. This is important in development economics. Even though not everyone wants to work abroad (approximately 1/3 or 1/4 have careers abroad), all have experience abroad. It allows you to open up and gain perspective. 
Also, the cultural evenings where everyone shares their artistic talents with others have a lot to do with it (laughs). This creates a community. However, there is a reason behind all of this. We have gone from 100 students to nearly 300 on the masters courses. There is not exactly the same cohesion as before. We are small compared to the University, so it's good to have grown. We could not justify having more than 30 researchers in today's world with only a 100 students! 

What is the role of CERDI's dean? 

Formally, I am a researcher at CERDI. The two units are separate. The faculty is in charge of teaching and the university department is in charge of research. But the two are so closely related that there is a common part. The dean must define the content of the lessons and the program with a teaching team and then organize the implementation of the lessons and evaluations. There are four major roles: recruiting students, teaching, evaluating/issuing degrees, and supporting job search. These are four major missions which are sometimes handled in different ways. lt is difficult but interesting. If we only think about teaching without evaluation, there are things that we will not do well. The same applies if we select the best students, but neglect job search. This has been one of the main developments in universities over the past 20 years. We must admit that half of our job is to prepare students for their jobs. Without betraying our ethics, we can say: "We are not here just to train students, to provide them with general knowledge. We cannot do this independendy of support towards their professional future. 

What are the challenges for CERDI for tomorrow? 

We must improve our attractiveness, especially in France. We are always very visible, and we attract many good students. I don't see a major problem in that respect, but there is relative erosion of our African students. Previously, for people who wanted to undertake development-related training, we were always in the top 2 or 3 schools. ln the last 20 years, competition from the Anglo-Saxon world has increased significantly, so some students go to the United States. There are also a number of new French-speaking programs, for example, Belgian and Canadian. African universities themselves are also growing rapidly and that's very good. When I arrived at CERDI, the top students often came from Africa. We have work to do in that respect. To formalize our on-site recruitment network to attract the best individuals. 

There is another issue: the digital transition. What can we do remotely to directly offer solutions on the ground, in Africa? And how can we involve more researchers from the South in our training? Some do come, but not enough! ln the next 10 years, the "we come to train in France to go back to our country" approach will no longer be possible. We must reduce the imbalance and have the same relationship with our southern colleagues as with the American or Western researchers. We need to have the type of exchanges we have with the USA and Europe, and to combine resources from the North and South in training. Reducing training costs is also a considerable challenge. Video conferencing is not enough to make a good lesson. There is a transition which has been accelerated by Covid-19, but which is not yet finished. The North-South balance remains to be re-set so that we are able to set up collaborations with research institutes in the South in a more symmetrical manner.