France will invest E7 billion (Pounds 4.4 billion) in higher education over the next six years to develop research, new technologies and university-business links, renovate campuses and improve student life - with priority for Paris and its surrounding region.
Education minister Claude Allegre gave details about the University of the Third Millennium, following negotiations with regional authorities, the state's partners in the plan.
U3M follows University 2000, an expansion programme to accommodate increases in the student population, which now totals just over two million. But now that nowhere in the country is more than 150 kilometres from a university and with student numbers falling slightly, U3M concentrates on improving the quality of facilities, rather than new construction.
Mr Allegre announced five new technology universities to be set up at Tarbes, Nimes, Chateau-Lambert (near Aix-Marseilles), Cherbourg and La Villette-Aubervilliers, a new north-eastern Paris site. This will bring the number of such establishments to eight. Modelled on Compiegne university, each will cater for about 3,000 students and aim to "develop training that is missing, such as computer science, and combined training such as management and engineering". The minister also plans for La Villette-Aubervilliers to specialise in arts, science and technology to serve multimedia industries.
In addition, 54 university technology institute (IUT) branches will open; and the institutes in general will refocus their activities towards industry rather than services. IUTs and technology lycees will use their facilities for research collaboration with businesses and industries.
Among other initiatives, national centres of technological research will bring together laboratories from the private sector, universities and national research institutes to work in specific areas - such as energy at Marseilles, electricity at Belfort, space at Toulouse and biotechnology and medicine at Strasbourg. As well as developing publicprivate links, research will focus on business and industrial needs, and plans include networks specialising in such fields as genetics, human sciences, materials analysis and medical imaging.
High-tech communications will link universities to form a distance-learning system offering continuing training, specialist courses and courses for groups such as the disabled.
A quarter of the U3M budget will be devoted to improving student life with housing, canteens, cultural and sports facilities, computerised study rooms and libraries that will stay open late.