Brussels, 18 Mar 2004
Following the mass resignation of French scientists on 9 March, the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the country's largest scientific establishment, is set to undergo an important structural reform.
Presenting a report entitled 'project for the CNRS', the Director General of the CNRS, Bernard Larrouturou, expressed his hope that the CNRS of 2010 would be very different to that of 2004.
The report re-evaluates the CNRS's mission and clarifies its role, aiming to make it more international, more attractive to students, more focused and with a better self-evaluation system.
'The CNRS must stop thinking of itself as a fundamental research body and position itself in a training-research-innovation continuum,' said Mr Larrouturou.
Since its creation 60 years ago, the CNRS has become the flagship of French public research in Europe. However, explained the Director General, despite its size (26,000 employees, including 11,000 researchers) and its multidisciplinarity, the centre's mission 'is not to pilot the totality of the national research.' Although it should continue to be present in all research fields, it should no longer aim to cover every single topic. Laboratories should be bigger but less numerous, more visible on the international scene and more attractive, marrying technical and financial resources,' said Mr Larrouturou.
The CNRS will instead concentrate its research in a number of keys areas, aiming to catch up in those fields in which it has been lagging, such as life sciences and information technologies.
The only exception, said Mr Larrouturou, motivated by the centre's will to open up to the international stage, will be that any team with an international aspect will be backed, whatever the subject.
The CNRS, states the report, intends to 'play a driving role in the construction of the European Research Area (ERA), constituting regional networks of excellence, visible both at European and global level.' By attracting more financial support from the EU, the CNRS hopes to increase its appeal to more top students, both French and non-French. The objective is to raise it's proportion of non-French researchers to 25 per cent from today's 12 per cent, says the report.
The CNRS is intent on 'favouring the autonomy of young researchers,' insisted Mr Larrouturou. This will create the conditions 'for the emergence of new ideas and new directions of research.' One way to achieve this, he feels, is to play on the French trump card, namely the civil servant status for researchers. This factor is already attracting foreign researchers in spite of modest salaries.
The report also tackles the evaluation process, which has been heavily criticised. At present, teams and laboratories are evaluated by the national committee of scientific research, two-thirds of which is made up with elected researchers. The Director General agrees that this situation has to be changed. 'By principle, to be evaluated by people you have chosen does not correspond to international standards.' The report therefore suggests nominating half the assessors and their presidents, thus making the evaluation process more impartial and efficient.
The report will be presented to the French government for consultation on 24 June.
Meanwhile, the 2,000 or more researchers who resigned on 9 March will demonstrate in Strasbourg on 19 March as part of the new national action day.