French scientists fear for basic research, despite government assurances

July 28, 2005

Brussels, Jul 2005

Scientists in France have expressed concerns that the country's government is promoting innovation at the expense of basic research, following the announcement that 1.5 billion euro will be spent on 67 industrial and competitive clusters over the next three years.

On 12 July the government announced funding for applied research collaborations between national research institutions and private companies within six industrial clusters. The clusters cover areas including health, nanotechnology and aerospace.

However, some researchers believe that the government is placing too much emphasis on innovation, while neglecting the basic research that underpins it. Alain Trautmann, a spokesperson for the national campaign 'Sauvons la recherche' (Let's save research), told The Scientist: 'While it is legitimate that the government is concerned about improving its industrial policy, it is illegitimate and irresponsible to confuse industrial policy and research.'

'I think researchers are nauseated,' he continued. 'The [government is] very fast at raising funds for one side of the coin, but for academic/public research, all it's been doing is dragging its feet and postponing its decisions.'

There was widespread protest in May when the government's budget plan failed to specify the distribution of funds between established public research institutions, universities and the newly established National Research Agency. The agency's brief is to fund both fundamental and applied research, but there are fears in some quarters that it will favour the latter.

'The government keeps denying it, but the facts speak for themselves - politicians systematically associate research and innovation, as if only innovation could justify research,' continued Mr Trautmann. '[Their] decisions concerning competitiveness clusters are just one additional illustration of this tendency.'

However, an advisor to the government's research council told the same publication that a new draft of the budget would be presented before the autumn, and rejected the accusation that basic research is being overlooked: 'This new project will confirm to scientists that a large part of the promised jobs and of the funding [will go] to fundamental research. And in this case, our only criteria will be the scientific quality of the projects,' he concluded.

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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