Minister promises a greater research role for universities

April 30, 2004

Paris

Francois Fillon, France's new minister for education and research, has promised universities a more prominent role in the nation's future research effort.

Outlining his plans for higher education, he told the Conference of University Presidents (CPU) last week of the government's commitment to research. He said: "Our main asset lies in the education of our young people and our talent for scientific innovation."

Universities have been campaigning for greater official recognition in research, which is dominated in France by the big research organisations such as the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Inserm, the medical research institute.

But Mr Fillon said there could be "no scientific strategy that does not take account of university research" and emphasised that the debate, intended to lead to new legislation by the end of the year, would include the future of the universities.

Earlier this month, Mr Fillon settled a dispute with researchers by restoring tenured posts that had been cut as a result of a government spending freeze.

He told the CPU that he was setting up an inquiry that would consult all interested parties, including the universities, on how to distribute the jobs most efficiently to "support a qualitative approach, based on scientific needs".

Mr Fillon also confirmed France's continuing commitment to the European degree structure based on three, five and eight years' higher studies. He said that because it involved the universities and the selective grandes écoles , it met the "triple challenge" of "democratisation, professionalisation and perfection" of the system.

He promised to reconsider the reform, shelved last year, to give universities more autonomy. This was supported by the CPU but opposed by academics and students who feared it was the first step to privatising the state university system.

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