Accreditation for nearly two-thirds of post-masters education research diplomas risk non-renewal this year in French universities.
The routine springtime review of research diplomas, diplomes d'etudes approfondies (DEAs), has been suspended until the new government of president Jacques Chirac takes up office.
Only six education DEAs were renewed without hitch while 14 others hang in the balance.
Unions warned of a "threat" hanging over research in education and social sciences. Plans to end certain diploma courses went against the advice of experts and the wishes of the universities concerned, they claimed.
"This is serious not only for the students and academics directly affected, but also for the future of all education research in France," said one union, the FSU.
Figures from the FSU show that accreditation for nearly two-thirds of DEAs in social sciences could be rejected or shortened from the usual four years to two years. In contrast, only 5 per cent of mathematics and physics DEAs are in jeopardy.
The FSU argues that French education research lags behind other countries, paticularly Germany. But Michele Proux, a researcher who heads the department of international relations at the Institut National de Recherche Pedagogique, says that French education research has so far managed to hold its own.
The arrival of a right-wing government could mean the revival of plans to shift the education institute from Paris to Rouen.
The institute governing body has voted no to the plans and an "anti-decentralisation" committee has been formed. Researchers argue their work is so closely tied to the formulation of education policy, that they need to be close to the government departments.
Plans to decentralise several national research institutes were drawn up in the late 1980s. The INRP project was then shelved but was recently resurrected.