Education minister Jack Lang last week announced an increased budget for next year that gives priority to creating new university posts despite falling enrolments.
Improvements in university facilities and more generous social benefits for an increased number of students have also been promised.
The education budget for 2001 is e60 billion (Pounds 35 billion), of which higher education will get e8.5 billion. This amount, almost a quarter of government expenditure, represents an increase for the sector of 2.73 per cent over this year. The overall state budget rose by just 1.5 per cent.
With presidential and general elections less than two years away, Mr Lang said that his priority was improving the ratio of staff to students. Announcing 616 new teaching posts, he said this meant that from the 2001 academic year, there would be about 19 students to each teacher.
He also announced 1,000 new posts - double the number created this year - for service personnel such as engineers, administrators and technicians, including 150 librarians and 45 health workers.
He allocated e million of the budget increase to improving the functioning of higher education institutions, especially those that had been "chronically under-funded" in recent years, such as universities specialising in the arts. Two-thirds of this money would go direct to the universities, Mr Lang said.
The budget continues to develop the student social plan, which was introduced in 1998. It allocates sums for more generous benefits that will reach an extra 16,000 recipients. From the 2001 academic year, 500,000 students will be eligible for aid. This amount, nearly a third of all students, compares with less than a quarter in 1997-98.
Commitments under the University of the Third Millennium (U3M) programme include new facilities for universities, such as equipment for research laboratories. Other projects include making safe the asbestos-riddled Jussieu campus in Paris.
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