Brussels, 31 October 2006
Following a call for proposals, the French Government has selected a total of 13 Advanced Thematic Research Networks (RTRAs), which together will receive € 200 million in funding. The creation of RTRAs is one in a series of recent structural measures undertaken by the Government to consolidate the country's public research sector and ensure its leading position in the global research field.
The selected networks fall into seven science disciplines: mathematics; computing; physics; chemistry; agricultural sciences; biology and medical sciences; social sciences and humanities. They bring together 670 researchers from 35 laboratories in universities and research institutes, with the members of each network being located in the same geographical area of France.
The funding will be used to create new infrastructures and to help these organisations develop common science and technology (S&T) research strategies. The aim is create internationally visible centres of excellence which will create a build mass of researchers and attract top international scientists.
The RTRAs are part of Government's recently launched 'Research Pact' to overhaul France's research system. According to the OECD, in 2005 France was the world's fourth largest spender on research and development (R&D), with 0.8% of GDP invested in public sector R&D. But performance does not reflect this investment; university rankings give France only four universities in the world's top 100, and France produces 5% of world scientific publications. Some suggest that this performance reflects the bureaucratic and fragmented nature of French public research.
In addition to increasing public R&D investment by €1 billion per year over the next three years, the Pact has kick started a series of structural reforms which the Government says will encourage further strategic cooperation between actors and ensure these resources are spent effectively. Reforms include:
- creation of an S&T Council to advise the President on research strategy;
- a Research Evaluation Agency to ensure better scientists get more funding;
- increased flexibility in research careers, with bonuses for star performers and opportunities to move between university, public research organisations and industry;
- increase in PhD stipends and a new contract to encourage employment of PhD graduates by the private sector;
- overhaul of accounting rules to reduce administrative burdens on scientists;
- funding of competitiveness clusters involving public laboratories and the private sector; - incentives to encourage universities and local public research labs to work together in higher education clusters.