Fury grows at plan to step up state input on research

September 29, 2006

French scientists are furious about alleged government plans to gain control over the forthcoming Research Evaluation Agency.

The mounting protest is the latest in more than two years of revolt against reforms to France's research system. It is mainly over a top-down rather than bottom-up method of selecting members of the ad hoc evaluation committees to be set up by the agency.

An open letter to Dominique de Villepin, the Prime Minister, calling for the withdrawal of a draft decree on the agency is being launched on the web and on paper by all the higher education and research unions.

The opposition continues despite a government climbdown on one important point earlier this month. A draft had said the new agency would evaluate all research institutes, laboratories, degrees and training, but the Government offered to return to a proposal for existing organisations to continue to evaluate laboratories.

"This issue had upset most of the scientific community," said Jean Kister, deputy general secretary of the science researchers' union SNTRS-CGT and union representative on the board of directors of Inserm, the biomedical research agency. "The fact that the Government has backtracked on labs shows that it is aware how extensive opposition is to the decree."

But the unions are still upset by a lack of consultation before the publication of the draft and the proposed cascade system for nominating members of the ad hoc evaluation committees. These will be chosen by the management of the Research Evaluation Agency and the directors of its three evaluation sections.

The agency will in theory be independent, but the Research Minister will appoint the management team and the three directors. This "seriously strengthens" the Government's hold over basic research, the SNTRS-CGT said.

The agency will also authorise procedures for the basic research agency CNRS, Inserm and the National Committee of the Universities to assess their staff.

Until now, research and researchers have been assessed by committees of elected peers.

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