Budget brings sighs of relief

September 29, 1995

Higher education was one of the few government departments that escaped severe trimming in last week's French budget proposals.

In contrast to an overall 1996 average budget increase of 1.8 per cent, spending on higher education is to increase by 4.5 per cent over the 1995 budget, reaching FFr44.1 billion (Pounds 5.7 billion).

Civil research spending, however, gets only 1.4 per cent more cash than 1995, bringing it up to FFr53.1 billion, and will be slightly down next year in real terms.

Elizabeth Dufourcq, the secretary of state for research, insisted that spending on the public research institutions will increase by 2.9 per cent in real terms.

"The real rise in the research budget is actually bigger than it appears, because there is a drop on spending on aeronautical research where the Airbus programme has ended," she said.

However, the number of research posts will stagnate next year, with only a handful of new positions available and others to go at ORSTOM, the overseas development research organisation.

According to the government, the lack of job creation is a result of prioritising money for research laboratories, where programmes were outstripping funding.

With the main research institution, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, still awaiting the outcome of an audit, the budget wipes out some of the CNRS's outstanding deficit.

" The audit proves clearly there is a major gap (at the CNRS) between planned research outcomes and actual programme credits," Mrs Dufourcq said.

Conservative governments have often criticised their socialist predecessors for allegedly inflating the research budget by authorising new programmes without pledging all the programme funding.

In the higher education budget, the announced 1,344 new academic posts in fact boils down to little more than 700 truly-new jobs. Of those, 606 posts have already been created and filled over the past few years but have not been written into a state budget.

The academic union, SNESUP, called this a "sleight of hand operation". Extra posts were needed. The student population is expected to increase by 1 per cent this year.

The budget includes extra spending on grants and social services for students.

However, one of president Jacques Chirac's key electoral pledges - a completely new "student status" - has not been allocated funds in the budget.

Negotiations on the new student status, which involved issues of student access to social benefits, are scheduled to start this autumn.

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