After the Franco-prussian war, the republican governments tried to reform higher learning in order to follow partially the Humboldtian model based on a link between research and teaching. Another aim was to enlarge the recruitment of elites to give birth to a meritocratic democracy inspired by the Republican and revolutionary tradition. These two aims were more or less pursued during the seventy years of Third Republic. But important lacks of radical decisions hindered to obtain a coherent transformation of the universities: centralization in Paris of the best students and professors, persistence of an elitist sector, the grandes écoles, inequality between faculties, backwardness in research investment due to the financial crisis of state finances after WWI. These lacunae explain the persistent unease of French higher Learning in the second half of XXth century.
Keywords: Higher learning, universities, Third Republic, meritocracy, elites, science, democracy.