French education minister Francois Bayrou, who has kept the portfolio he held in the Balladur government, is organising a national referendum on education to which he was strongly opposed.
President Chirac made the referendum - on key but unspecified aspects of the education system - a prominent election pledge during his presidential campaign. He suggested the reform of first and second-year university courses could be put in the referendum.
Prime minister Alain Juppe was expected to give details of the referendum in his general policy statement this week.
Mr Bayrou first supported former prime minister Edouard Balladur in the election campaign, then switched camps earlier than most "Balladuriens" to back Jacques Chirac.
The 44-year-old president of the Centre des Democrates Sociaux, a component of the governing coalition, was widely believed to have wanted the foreign ministry, but instead got a greatly enlarged education portfolio. The ministry now combines pre-school, primary, secondary and higher education, research and professional training for young people.
"It shows one had to reward him for the fact that he was not given what he wanted - the foreign ministry," commented political scientist Dominique Moisi. "It is a consummate exercise in politics but I don't think it has great intellectual significance."
Flanked by three secretaries of state at the ceremony marking his new term in office, a beaming Mr Bayrou said it was the first time in history all of these different functions had come under one ministry, making it "a very large ministry for the future of France".
Jean de Boishue, the new secretary of state for higher education, was a professor of literature at the Sorbonne in the late 1960s before taking up a series of posts in ministerial teams. A supporter of the planned referendum on education, Mr de Boishue, who is 51, has written a report on university reform recommending joint national and regional funding and responsibility for first and second- year university courses. This has been seen as a moderate stance, between supporters of the present national status and control of courses plus controversial calls for devolution to the regions.
As an MP, he set up an informal club in the parliamentary party of President Chirac's RPR, called "the human condition", which aims to counter conservative trends in the party by promoting progressive values. As a member of the Ile de France regional council, he opposed interior minister Charles Pasqua's project for the controversial private Leonardo da Vinci University now being built by the council.
Elisabeth Dufourcq, the secretary of state for research, is a 54- year-old political scientist and historian. She is a member of the scientific council of the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale and also of France's national ethics committee and has written several books on women missionaries.
To mark the importance he intends to give his extended responsibilities, Mr Bayrou and his new team immediately paid a visit to the CNRS, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
The CNRS, France's main research institute, has had a troubled year after budget cutbacks sparked protest.