History of the Institute for Research in Education (IREDU)

The creation of IREDU

In 1967, while Jean-Claude Eicher was a professor of economics and management, he founded a university team associated with the University of Burgundy with the aim of studying the costs of education. The aim was also to enable France to catch up with the Anglo-Saxon countries in terms of educational economics research. Officially, the IREDU, Institut de Recherche en Économie de l’Education, was created on 13 May 1971 within the University of Burgundy, when the management board of the Faculty of Economics and Management gave the laboratory its title of educational research institute. In 1972, it was recognised by the CNRS. The initial nucleus of four young economists recruited by the CNRS (S. Cuenin, B. Millot, A. Mingat, F. Orivel) was successively joined by four CNRS economists recruited at the end of the 1970s.

The founder of IREDU

In the late 1950s, Jean-Claude Eicher witnessed at first hand the foundations of educational economics in Chicago. His teacher, Theodore Schultz (winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics) had guided his first steps in the field. Returning to France, he wrote his thesis on the analysis of consumption, and in 1960 published his first article on the economics of education in the Revue d’Économie Politique, devoted to the profitability of human investment in the United States. After IREDU was founded in 1971, he headed the laboratory until 1985, when he was replaced by François Orivel. He was also involved in numerous scientific activities in the field of education in France and around the world. A professor of economics and then of educational science, he was also the first director of the IUFM in Burgundy. Still involved in a number of research projects, he died in 2003 at the age of 75.

The IREDU journey over 50 years

The team’s first research projects were funded as part of the CNRS’s Programmed Thematic Actions and focused on the costs, funding and performance of education. Carried out in collaboration with other teams such as Louis Lévy-Garboua’s at CREDOC, it laid the foundations for the national education account and was the theme of the first major international conferences organised by the team from 1974 onwards. In 1974, IREDU became a unit associated with the Centre National des Recherches Scientifiques (CNRS), and the following year it also became a centre associated with the Centre d’Etudes de Recherches sur les Qualifications (a public institution working on the relationship between training and employment). Following on from the team’s early work, the aim of this partnership was to gain a better understanding of the value of diplomas and training courses on the labour market, particularly in terms of the needs of each region, while also participating in Céreq’s founding activities, such as the Répertoire Français des Emplois.

IREDU was also quick to open up to international partnerships with major institutions such as the OECD, UNESCO and the World Bank. These exchanges, innovative for their time, enabled the Institute to carve out a place for itself in the world of educational research, to forge partnerships that continue to this day, and to enable master’s and doctoral students who have passed through IREDU to take up prestigious international posts.

The 1980s saw the development of research aimed at integrating economic methods with the sociological evaluation of the educational process. The complementary nature of these disciplines can be seen as a hallmark of the laboratory. It is illustrated in particular by a series of studies led by Alain Mingat and Marie Duru-Bellat, which have opened up numerous avenues for current research on education.

IREDU gradually recruited research professors in sociology and then in education sciences from the University of Burgundy. For this reason, in 1994, after having been a CNRS Laboratoire Propre, it adopted the status of Unité Mixte de Recherche (UMR) CNRS-Université de Bourgogne, under the direction of Jean Bourdon. Then, in 2000, IREDU was granted dual CNRS affiliation, in economics and sociology.

Under the leadership of Jean-Jacques Paul, who was elected as the new director in 2001, the IREDU’s name changed in 2003 to become the Institut de Recherche sur l’Éducation: Sociologie et Économie de l’Éducation, thus affirming its dual status. Later that year, the University of Burgundy offered IREDU new premises. It left the Mirande building to move into a new building, the AAFE (Acquisition, Learning, Training and Education) centre, which also houses psychology laboratories and a sociology department. Bruno Suchaut and then Jean-François Giret became directors of the laboratory in 2007 and 2012 respectively, with Sophie Morlaix being appointed deputy director in 2018. She became Director in May 2024, when Jean-François Giret was appointed Director General of Céreq.

In 2013, the IREDU was administratively attached to the ESPE (École Supérieur du Professorat et de l’Éducation), as part of an original configuration based around a local training and research centre for teaching, education and culture. The ESPE will become the INSPÉ (Institut National Supérieur du Professorat et de l’Éducation) in 2019.

In 2004, shortly after the death of IREDU’s founder, the institute and the Eicher family decided to pay tribute to him by founding the AJCDE (Association Jean-Claude Eicher pour le Développement de l’Économie de l’Education). The aim of this association is to honour the memory of the founder of IREDU and to contribute to his work by encouraging research in this field.

Previous winners of the thesis prize are: Magali Jaoul-Grammare (2006), Nadir Altinok (2008), Xavier Pons (2010), Nelly Rakoto Tiana (2012), Samuel Charmillot (2014) and Léonard Moulin (2017).

IREDU today

The team carries out most of its research in the field of education and training sciences (70th section), while favouring theoretical approaches based on sociology and economics, in particular by working on quantitative methodologies in the field of education and training. The IREDU’s scientific project is structured around two themes.

The first theme focuses on the question of how pupils and students succeed. The aim is to understand how inequalities are created between pupils throughout their school and university careers, and how public education policies can help to reduce them.

The second theme is a continuation of the team’s past work on the links between training and employment, while seeking to better integrate the analysis of educational and vocational guidance processes. Part of the work in this theme is still carried out under an association agreement with Céreq (Centre d’Études et de Recherches sur les Qualifications), set up in 1975.