France is battling to make up lost ground in the use of information and communication technologies in education and research.
Under plans to develop digital education, teachers and students will soon be able to consult a free database via the internet. Extra multimedia resources and degrees integrating information technologies are also on the agenda.
At the communications summer school in Hourtin, southwest France, last week, education minister Jack Lang said France had been lagging behind other countries until four years ago, when the new government ploughed investment into technology.
Mr Lang said that since then, progress had been made but that the pace of change needed to accelerate.
He said that several contracts had been signed or were under negotiation with companies and public institutions to provide educational establishments with free access to a wide network of information sources.
They include BNF, the national library; the Louvre museum; ING, the national geographical institute; Meteo France, the national weather service; Insee, the national statistics and economics institute; Inserm, the health and medical research institute; and IBM France, which will make software on office automation and electronic education available, and provide related services.
Another prospective partner is the BBC, which would supply programmes that can be recorded for English lessons. Mr Lang said he hoped to strike similar deals in other countries.
Other projects include development of multimedia resources in higher education training programmes, such as Canal U, the French universities' web television.
Mr Lang said several universities were creating degrees integrating ICT, many of them through the licence professionnelle, a diploma equivalent to three years' of post-baccalaureat studies.
Mr Lang announced that two internet schools were opening in Marseille and in Bourges to train specialised engineers.
The minister also announced plans to set up an "education villa" - an advanced research laboratory devoted to educational multimedia.
This "European residence", due to open in Grenoble in 2002, should, he said, "rapidly become an international place of reference and studies in the field of educational technologies".