Paris and research get priority for millennium

October 2, 1998

Expansion is over for France's universities. After a decade of rapid growth they face at least five years of stability. The emphasis will be on developing research and technology, and renovating campuses, particularly in Paris.

These are among measures in the "Universities of the Third Millennium" plan (U3M) unveiled by education minister Claude All gre. Next year's budget has set aside FFr1 billion (Pounds 105 million) for the first stage of it.

It succeeds the Universite 2000 expansion programme under which student numbers rocketed to more than two million, most of them in the universities. New establishments were created and existing ones became larger to keep pace with enrolments of young people who left school armed with the baccalaureat, their passport to a university place.

Now numbers are dropping off and universities have improved their seriously underequipped facilities, said Mr All gre. Only Paris, neglected under Universite 2000, will receive preferential treatment.

Plans include a new university site in a Left Bank redevelopment zone. Some other campuses, particularly those dating from the 1960s, will be renovated, with priority for student housing and facilities for foreign students.

Some universities considered "centres of excellence" will be strengthened, and underused outposts in smaller towns will close.

Research and technological innovation, absent from Universite 2000, will be central to U3M.

Mr All gre envisages that development of new technologies will save having to construct new lecture halls. He refused to discuss the total cost of U3M, planned to cover the next five years or more but central government and regional authorities will share it. Education is still a major budgetary priority, with higher education receiving over FFr51 billion, 5.4 per cent more than last year.

Despite declining student numbers, Mr All gre has prevented any axing of university posts - though, apart from 800 administrative and service jobs, there will be no new ones.

The new student social plan, which starts this academic year and awards higher grants to more students, will cost an extra FFr808 million bringing total support to over FFr7 billion.

The research budget has risen to FFr53.9 billion, up 1.6 per cent which is above the rate of inflation (1.5 per cent). It is tilted in favour of public research, including medicine, agronomics and CNRS, the national council for scientific research. Another FFr 500 million will set up a national science fund to coordinate studies between various institutions that will redeploy some of their resources to fund research.

Government commitment to promoting industrial innovation is reflected in the increased allocation of FFr670 million for the technological research fund, to stimulate action in small and medium-sized firms and industries.

Networks will link laboratories and enterprises in such fields as food, transport, civil engineering, telecommunications, health, the environment and computer science.

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