Protesters recoup research funding

November 4, 1994

The French government has made concessions on public research funding after two demonstrations and a laboratory strike by staff of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris.

As researchers demonstrated outside parliament, Francois Fillon, minister for higher education and research, told MPs that the CNRS was to be allowed to take 200 million francs (Pounds 24 million) out of a special reserve fund.

He added that 147 million francs of this year's CNRS budget, which had been frozen, would now be made available.

These measures, said Mr Fillon, "will enable the CNRS to close its budget gap and start 1995 on a totally healthy footing".

But the main research union, the National Union of Scientific Researchers, (SNCS), says this is only a step in the right direction. "The special reserve belongs to the CNRS anyway, as did the frozen 147 million." argued SNCS general secretary Jacques Fossey. "The government should make up the funding gap which it created."

The budget gap, of around 400 million francs, grew out of the difference over recent years between spending credits and spending authorisations. The public research institutions were allowed to spend more than the sums in the annual budgets.

CNRS technicians closed their labs for the day in protest, prompting Mr Fillon to say that further research funding may be considered.

Spurred by the success of their protests, the research unions are calling for another demonstration on Tuesday in Paris, with others organised around the country.

The protest will focus on the 400 million franc funding shortage and on a second issue which also affects the universities.

The research ministry is preparing to change the system of funding which links the CNRS to university-based research laboratories.

Although the plans are not finalised, they have stirred anxiety over eventual cuts in the number of laboratories and over the implications for basic research.

Academics at the University of Burgundy joined CNRS staff in protest against the reform, saying that the "change appeared to be the consequence of inadequate public research funding".

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