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PRESENTED BY ESSEC BUSINESS SCHOOL

‘It really feels like a dream come true’: working in a Paris palace hotel

"It's a huge source of pride for me to work at a Parisian palace hotel," says Amel Ziani-Orus. The Director of Talent and Culture at the 5-star Le Meurice has hotels in her blood. “I moved with my family from Algeria to France when I was 18. My parents owned a boutique hotel.”

'It really feels like a dream come true': working in a Paris palace hotel
Photo: Amel Ziani-Orus at Le Meurice, Paris
Amel says she did not always plan to go into hotel work herself and first worked in project management. But eventually she changed course to study for an MSc in Hospitality Management at ESSEC Business SchoolNow, she is the head of HR at one of France’s most luxurious and prestigious hotels – and one with an integral place in Parisian society and culture. 
 
“Thinking of my ambitions during the time I spent at ESSEC, it really feels like a dream come true to be working here now,” she says. “I’m very happy.”
 
Here, The Local kicks off a series of articles on the theme of #MyParisianLife by speaking to her about the joy of working in such a place and how she got there.
 
Luxury and a rare artistic history
 
“Le Meurice is one of the first ‘palace hotels’,” she says. “This is a unique designation to France. It means beyond five stars, and describes a hotel with the highest standards of service.“
 
Opening its current location in 1835, Le Meurice is the oldest Paris hotel awarded the palace distinction and has hosted many luminaries. “It was the hotel used by European royalty, but perhaps our most famous guest was Salvador Dalí.”
 
The surrealist painter was a frequent guest, staying at the hotel for one month every Spring for 30 years. Pablo Picasso also hosted his wedding lunch at the hotel in 1918, and to this day the hotel has a close association with art. 
 
 
Amel Ziani-Orus at Le Meurice, the hotel bar, and a glimpse of its luxury interiors. Photos by Jesse Wallace for The Local.
 

Masked employees at Le Meurice during the pandemic and the hotel’s lobby (bottom left). Photos by Jesse Wallace for The Local.
 
“For the last 20 years, the hotel has had a prize for contemporary artists,” Amel tells us. The winning artist receives a grant of €10,000, with another €10,000 for the gallery involved in the project. The luxurious interiors of the hotel are filled with previous prize winners, making it a highly desirable location for magazine photography shoots. 
 
It’s not just art that Le Meurice is famous for, however. Amel is also very proud of the hospitality offered – in particular the gourmet cuisine. “Cédric Grolet, one of the greatest pastry chefs in the world, has a patisserie at the hotel – La Pâtisserie du Meurice par Cédric Grolet”.
 
The award-winning pastries and cakes on offer are a major drawcard for the hotel. Indeed, even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the patisserie remains open, with Parisians flocking for their daily fix of Grolet’s amazing creations. Despite the pandemic, hotels and luxury establishments continue to survive. “There are of course challenges, but we’re able to overcome them,” says Amel. 
 
The value of problem-solving networks
 
So how did she find herself in such an esteemed role? “I did my MSc in Hotel Management at ESSEC!” One of the ‘trois Parisiennes’ of management schools, the École Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales has been producing some of the world’s most celebrated hoteliers since 1907. 
 

Ornate interiors, high ceilings, and works of art at Paris’s original palace hotel Le Meurice. Photos by Jesse Wallace for The Local.
 
The hotel offers modern design and comforts, as well as tradition. Photos by Jesse Wallace for The Local.
 
The school’s vintage – in operation for over a century – doesn’t stop it from offering a top-class education for the digital age. “One of the greatest things the school gave me was the ability to use modern software tools to help operate the hotel,” says Amel. “Many hoteliers underestimate its importance, but it makes a huge difference.”
 
It’s not just the application of modern technology that distinguishes ESSEC from other management schools. Amel credits ESSEC’s alumni networks and expert teachers as being hugely useful even today.
 
“I can still ask questions of the networks that I made while at ESSEC if I have a problem that needs solving. I can also contact my teachers for their point of view. ESSEC also organises student visits, so students can see how a luxury hotel works from the inside”. 
 
From her beginnings working in her parents’ boutique hotel, Amel now finds herself at the top of her profession – and able to enjoy some of the most enviable views in the world. “One of my favourite places is the Belle Etoile Suite terrace of the hotel, with amazing views across the iconic Paris cityscape, towards the Eiffel Tower,” she says. 
 
Studying hotel management has taken Amel from a family business to the penthouse suite of one of the world’s premiere luxury hotels. As she tells us: “ESSEC was a huge step for me in order to get where I am today.”
 
Want to pursue your own Parisian dream? Find out more about ESSEC’s MSc in Hospitality Management and get in touch with a current student of the programme.
 
Click through the slideshow below to see the full range of photos we captured at Le Meurice #MyParisianLife.

All photos by Jesse Wallace for The Local.

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EDUCATION

EXPLAINED: How Spain will make it easier for students to graduate

The Spanish government has passed a new decree which will allow secondary and sixth form students to graduate and receive their qualifications, even if they have failed some subjects.

Spain is changing its education rules
There will also be no re-sitting of exams at Spanish secondary schools. Photo: CESAR MANSO / AFP

The Spanish government approved on Tuesday, November 16th a new Royal Decree which gives instructions to teachers to change the way they grade their students for the rest of the school year of 2021/2022 and 2022/2023.

Education in Spain is compulsory for all those from ages 6 to 16. The Spanish education system is made up of primary and secondary schools. Secondary school is referred to as ESO and students receive a Título de Graduado Educación Secundaria Obligatoria (Title of Graduation from Obligatory Secondary School Education). This is the last four years of compulsory education, up until age 16, and is similar to GCSEs in the UK.

After age 16, Spanish students can go on to study for the optional Bachillerato for the next two years up until age 18. This is equivalent to A-levels in the UK and is needed if the student wants to attend university. 

The new rules apply to the ESO and Bachillerato qualifications. In primary education, there were no specific qualifications or failure limits and this is the same in the new decree too. 

What is changing?

  • Before, students studying for the ESO were allowed to pass each year only if they did not have more than three failed subjects, but now with the new decree, there is no limit.
  • There will also be no re-sitting of exams in ESO.
  • In order to graduate with the ESO qualification at age 16, students could still graduate even if they had up to two failed subjects, however now there is no limit in the number of failed subjects allowed to graduate. 
  • In order to pass each year of the Bachillerato, students could still move on if they had up to two failed subjects. This will stay the same in the new decree too. 
  • In order to graduate with the Bachillerato qualification before, students had to pass all subjects and exams, but now one failed subject is allowed. 
  • Students will also be able to sit the Selectividad, which are the Spanish university admission tests if they have failed some of their Bachillerato (sixth form) school subjects.
  • For the first time in history, students with special needs who have had significant curricular adaptations and have not studied the minimum requirement for other students will also be able to receive their high school qualifications.

READ ALSO: Why Spain is failing in maths and science teaching

How will it be decided if students can graduate?

The text presented to the Council of Ministers by Pilar Alegría, the Spanish Minister of Education states that the decision on whether or not a student passes secondary education will be decided on by each board of the school or institution at the end of the school year.

It is the teaching team “who is given the ultimate responsibility for the decision on the promotion and qualification of students” she stated. It will be the teachers who have to make the decision after assessing whether the student “has reached the appropriate degree of acquisition of the corresponding skills”. 

This means that there will no longer be specific requirements to graduate high school and that the parameters for passing will be different for each institution.   

Why have the rules changed?

The new measures are designed to avoid students repeating years and improve graduation statistics.

According to the latest statistics, out of the countries in the EU in 2020, 79 percent of the population between 25 and 64 years old had graduated Secondary Education or higher and Spain is around 16.1 points below this average. 

Pilar Alegría said that 30 percent of 15-year-old students have repeated a year at least once and “dropout rates are increased by this percentage of students”. 

That is why we are committed to a system “based on trust in teachers”, “continuous evaluation” and “collaborative work by teaching teams”. She has assured that “the culture of effort does not run any risk with this new norm. An effort based on motivation is better than one based on punishment”.  

READ ALSO: Spain passes contested education bill

Are all regions on board with the new rules?

Madrid, Andalusia, Galicia, Castilla y León and Murcia strongly oppose the new rules because they “lower the requirement” and “unsettle the teachers”. 

The five regions complain that the royal decree changes the rules of the game in the middle of the course since the students have started the academic year with a particular curriculum and specific criteria in order to pass it. 

Madrid 

“Within our powers, while respecting the law, we are going to try to prevent the royal decree from being applied, as we consider that it is a direct attack on one of the pillars of the Madrid educational system, as is the merit and the effort of the students “, said sources from the Department of Education of the Community of Madrid.

Galicia

The education authorities in Galicia said that they will also “explore any legal possibility that allows for preserving the culture of effort and quality as signs of identity”.

Castilla y León

The education departments in Castilla y León said that for their part, they “will make sure that the curricular development and the norms of promotion and qualification are the least harmful”.

Andalusia 

“Although the norm establishes that the Baccalaureate degree can be obtained with a failed subject, we understand that it does not make sense because all subjects contribute to the acquisition of the necessary competencies,” said the education authorities in Andalusia.

Murcia 

Murcia is also not in favor of the royal decree and denounces “the improvisation of the Pedro Sánchez government and the lack of legal security for the decisions that have been taken”.   

Unions and Associations

Teachers’ unions such as Csif or Anpe or associations such as Concapa or Cofapa warn that more students are going to arrive less prepared for the next level of education, where the problem will explode. 

These regions argue that this new system will leave a lot of grey areas because teachers’ criteria can be very subjective. The elimination of make-up exams is also causing confusion because “they give another opportunity for students to pass based on their effort and ability”. 

The rest of the regions, on the other hand, were in favor of eliminating the need to re-sit exams because they believe that the evaluation should be “continuous” and the student should not risk everything for a single exam.

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