Crumbling Paris-3 at risk

July 15, 2005

There are fears for the future of a leading university that specialises in modern humanities unless extensive repairs, reconstruction and expansion of its buildings are carried out.

Nearly 20,000 students are enrolled at the University Paris-3, Sorbonne-Nouvelle, which has a strong reputation in languages, humanities and the study of contemporary societies. Half its postgraduate students are from abroad.

The university runs three inter-university libraries, but its buildings are dilapidated and severely overcrowded. Restoration and enlargement of Sorbonne-Nouvelle was planned under a joint state-region university renovation programme, "Campus in the City". The programme included a new building on the Centre Censier site in the Latin Quarter. Censier, which caters for 70 per cent of students, was to have been rebuilt and extended because of asbestos contamination and its operations temporarily moved to alternative accommodation.

It was planned that the university, which is spread over ten sites, including one outside Paris, would eventually be housed in three main neighbouring centres.

But the president of Sorbonne-Nouvelle, Bernard Bosredon, said the project had been blocked since October 2003 "because of numerous legal obstacles and opposition from the (nearby) Natural History Museum. This is not a technical or financial question, but a political one," he said. "The community of Paris-3 has had enough, and it is angry."

The windows in the 40-year-old prefabricated, metal-framed Centre Censier were fitted in 1965. Some are dangerous and have had to be sealed. Interior walls have not been replastered for more than 20 years. The university is unable to do any maintenance work because of the danger the asbestos poses.

Mr Bosredon said: "I was a student here when the building was new, and they told me then you could dismantle it with a screwdriver."

The Education Ministry said Campus in the City was the only project under consideration, but the university claimed it had reached a dead end. There is no funding available for Censier's rehabilitation, estimated at between €60 million (£41.2 million) and €80 million and a temporary space had not yet been found, it said.

One possible solution is a move to the Jussieu campus when Paris-7, one of two universities accommodated there, is relocated in 2006 to another part of Paris.

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