Having decided that France needs more research-led universities, ministers did not have far to go for a protottype.
In December Claude Allegre then minister for education and research, announced the University of the Third Millennium (U3M) plan. After a lecade of university expansion to accommodate rising student numbers which peaked at just above 2 million emphasis in the universities would be on developing research new technologies and ontacts with business, as well as to renovating campuses and improving student life.
U3M involves creating five new technology universities, bringing their number to eight. The model will be the Universite de Technologie de Compiegne, which for nearly 30 years has offered engineering students a training alternative to the elite grandes ecoles at the traditional universities, It has developed a specialised research dimension, attracting a large postgraduate and doctoral body. It aims to develop technology throughout its teaching and research, and it has been cultivating links with industry for years.
The other two technology universities, which form a network with Compiegne, are at Troyes and Belfort-Monibeliard.
UTC was setup in 1972. a consequence of the student revolt that had engulfed France four years earlier. 'Compiegne developed a new model of engineering train- ing in Prance.' explains Claude Moreau, director of continuing education with responsibility for new technologies in education.
Before, it was a very elitist field of studies, with the competititive exams for the grandes ecoles. Here it is very different.' A sort of cross between a university and a grande ecole UTC receives applications from school-leavers with high baccalaureat grades who would traditionally be expected to aim for the top engineering schools, alongside which UTC is ranked. But instead of an entrance exam, the UTC accepts students on their school record including a scientific baccalaureat and interview by jury.
They might come straight from lycee or following a two-year post- baccalaureat diploma.
At UTC. students construct their own study programmes by choosing the course units they want. A fundamental difference from traditionally 'pure engineering' or scientific studies is the inclusion of human sciences courses, which must constitute a quarter of all students' programmes. This principle was introduced by UTC's founder.
Guy Denielou, who trained as an engineer but also had a back- ground in philosophy.
'The basic training is scientific.
but to train students well it is extremely important to include the social sciences - economics, management, law, languages - everything that is not 'hard' science.' Moreau said.
UTC has 2.200 undergraduates, split between 500 in the two-year post-bac common curriculum stage, and 1.700 in the three-year specialist courses that follow and lead to the professional engineering degree. Studies are organised into two semesters a year, and all students in the second cycle most spend two semesters during their three years on industrial place- ment, which might be abroad.
Each term, companies submit 800 proposals offering work placements for 150 available students.
UTC also has 800 postgraduate students, a high proportion that reflects the university's strong research element. Students as young as 21 are integrated into the laboratories, and course units include mini research projects for two or three students to carry out.
The university's teaching and research activities benefit from an advanced telecommunications and computing infrastructure.
For three years. UTC has run an interactive distance-learning post- graduate programme using software developed by Dominique Boullier, professor of communication science. This offers IS highly structured courses representing 600 hours of work for up to 16 business professionals at a time.
UTC is constantly expanding its research relations with industry, and unlike other French universities much of its income derives from industrial contracts. Teams of research and doctoral students work on an average of 250 contracts at any given time. A non-profit-making organisation, Gradient, manages the contracts, and this, with UTC, has setup a company to manage the increasing number of resulting patents. Following the innovation law, 'two or three new businesses are being set up through the university each month where it used to be two or three a year.' Moreau said.
Meanwhile an enterprise "nursery" is incubating about a dozen fledging companies.