Scientists angered by draft legislation

February 4, 2005

France's scientific community has united to oppose policies outlined in a leaked draft of a proposed research law, claiming that it breaks funding promises made to a sector "in danger", writes Jane Marshall in Paris.

University presidents, groups representing researchers and students, and a statutory consultative body have condemned proposals in the "confidential" working paper. The legislation comes a year after a revolt by researchers against inadequate funding and cuts in tenured posts led to President Chirac promising to make research a priority.

The leaked paper gives details of a new strategic research and innovation council and a national research agency for allocating funds. New centres of research and higher education (PRES) will be set up initially for five years on university sites to "allow the different French public parties - universities, research organisations, grandes écoles and teaching hospitals - to combine forces". The research centres, which might include private firms, could be set up by local authorities.

Measures to "make the work of establishments and researchers easier" include reversing the "precautionary" administrative system and replacing it with one of "responsibility based on confidence". Financial controls would be lifted and budgetary regulations eased for research organisations, which would also have constraints on contracts with government bodies lifted.

The paper also puts forward long-term employment plans for researchers and enseignants-chercheurs , who teach and carry out research in universities.

Other measures aim to encourage young PhDs, including merit promotions and two or three-year associate researcher contracts.

But the 88-page draft, obtained by researchers' union SNCS-FSU and published on its website, has met with disappointment and anger among members of the academic and scientific community.

University presidents said there was "a risk of major conflict" over the proposals. They denounced the "refusal to consider universities as full research operators" that could manage global research budgets; inadequate funding programmes; and "diversion" of the PRES project that "could lead to dismembering of the universities".

Action group Sauvons la Recherche! condemned the draft as "totally against the demands of the scientific community". It claimed the budget figures in the paper would fail to honour President Chirac's promise to spend 3 per cent of France's GDP on research by 2010.

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