Scientists force the release of £200m

March 5, 2004

The French government has released €300 million (£202 million) for research just days before scientists had threatened to resign en masse unless research funds were unfrozen and more posts for young researchers were created.

Since January, more than 53,000 researchers and other staff in public laboratories have signed an internet petition, launched by the action group Sauvons la Recherche, in which senior scientists say they will resign their administrative duties on March 9 if their demands are not met.

The released funds, which were meant to have been paid out in 2002 and 2003, raise this year's research budget by 4.7 per cent. Most of the cash will go to France's two big research bodies, the multidisciplinary National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Inserm, the health and medical research institute.

But Alain Trautmann, head of the cellular biology department at the Cochin Institute and representative of Sauvons la Recherche, said the government had yet to meet its demands for the restoration of 550 axed research centre posts and for the creation of more jobs for young researchers.

"We are satisfied by the fact that the government seems to consider our requests (to unfreeze funds) fair, and we hope it will consider the remaining questions relating to the jobs for the young are fair as well," Dr Trautmann told The Times Higher .

"It is important to underline that the amount of money necessary for those positions is much less than the money just released. Our threat of resignation on March 9 is still valid until we have an answer on the question of jobs, which was the initial problem."

Dr Trautmann was surprised by the timing of the decision, which was reported in La Tribune before the findings of a report on the funding of public laboratories were published. "The results of this [report] were supposed to be key for deciding whether the government should give the money or not. But it has given it anyway," he said.

According to La Tribune , Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the prime minister, wanted a quick settlement of the politically damaging dispute with Sauvons la Recherche before regional elections later this month.

In an effort to resolve the conflict, Claudie Haigneré, the research minister, began a national debate on the future of research and promised a framework law by the year's end. She told the annual conference of university presidents in Bordeaux that she would soon announce research-friendly measures.

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