'Too lavish' managers ordered to clean up

September 24, 1999

The agency that promotes and organises programmes between French-speaking universities worldwide is accused of poor management and misappropriation of funds.

The Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) faces radical streamlining following critical reports to this month's summit of 52 leaders of French-speaking countries in Moncton, Canada.

The report criticised Michel Guillou, the agency's director-general since 1986 who has close links to the neo-Gaullist Rassemblement Pour la Republique party of President Jacques Chirac.

Ten academics were commissioned to assess and redefine inter-university cooperation policy for consideration at the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, but they were sidetracked by rumblings of dissatisfaction in university circles about AUF workings and management.

The report - submitted before the summit took place to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former United Nations head and the organisation's secretary-general - became part of a general move to clean up the management of associations connected with the Francophonie.

While it is acknowledged that Mr Guillou has shown great dynamism as head of the AUF, he was at the centre of the charges.

The AUF started as Aupelf - Association des Universites Partiellement ou Entierement de Langue Francaise - in Montreal in 1961, an organisation linking France, French-speaking Canada and Belgium with the new universities opening in former French or francophone colonies.

Mr Guillou, an adviser to Michel Aurillac, then minister for cooperation, took over Aupelf in 1986 envisaging a "global" role for French, including defence of French language teaching worldwide. In 1989 he took over management of all research and higher education administered by another organisation, Universite des reseaux d'expression francaise (UREF).

Aupelf-UREF expanded, setting up offices in each continent and regional offices in about 20 countries. With a budget of ¤35 million (Pounds 23 million), 85 per cent of it paid by the French government, it supported about 300 universities, organising subsidies, grants for young researchers, funds for training institutes, and setting up language courses and bilingual classes in schools in countries including Vietnam, Moldavia and Lebanon. Last year it changed its name to the AUF.

In addition to his salary of ¤91,000, Mr Guillou was being paid an expatriation allowance of ¤55,000 a year and ¤11,000 for Paris expenses. He spent large sums on prestige items and running costs not always backed by receipts. In 1996, Margie Sudre, then secretary of state for the French language, ordered a report into AUF following which Claude Allegre, when he became education minister in 1997, blocked his ministry's annual ¤2.9 million contribution.

Then came the report of the ten experts, followed by a critical assessment by the multilateral Francophonie fund to measure the extent of irregularities.

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