Overhaul 'critical'

May 14, 2004

France's research minister is planning legislation to make research more efficient and competitive while university presidents want the state's share of research funding to increase from 0.9 per cent of gross domestic product to 1.5 per cent by 2010.

Francois d'Aubert warns in an article in Le Monde that research risks falling behind internationally, and new framework legislation is essential to develop its research and innovation system.

Mr d'Aubert says legislation is needed by the end of the year because of the "critical situation".

He identifies a "problem in the system of finance" and a need to rationalise the ministry's use of incentive funds: "The present system of tendering is too nit-picking, too split up, too time-consuming." Burdensome administration is also a problem of, he says.

But he rules out sweeping reforms or cutting the number of the big research bodies such as the multidisciplinary National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Inserm, the health and medical research institute.

It is vital, he says, that where "a research team reports to several institutions - such as the CNRS, Inserm and a university - this does not give rise to extra complications and is not a hindrance to research projects". He calls for a "pragmatic approach" that would need to be "tailor-made for each establishment".

Mr d'Aubert says that to achieve the European objective of devoting 3 per cent of GDP to research by 2010, the private sector will need to invest much more in innovation. The right balance, he thinks, would be one-third public and two-thirds private funding.

But university presidents want more state involvement - half the total by 2010. They also want research laboratories placed under the responsibility of universities, or federations of establishments that would jointly plan research and educational activities.

They point out that "universities concentrate the greatest share of human research potential - 75 per cent of researchers in France", with 80 per cent of Inserm units and CNRS laboratories mixed and accommodated in or jointly run with universities.

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