France's research budget for 2003 has provoked accusations of government fiddling of the figures to show an increase in spending.
Minister Claudie Haignere claimed her €9.56 billion (£6 billion) budget showed a 5.3 per cent rise in research expenditure. But this included carrying over €720 million of "unused public funds" from the 2002 budget, which did not constitute new money.
Discounting this transfer, finance ministry figures indicate that research expenditure for 2003 will fall in real terms by 0.8 per cent. The research ministry says it will rise 1.4 per cent, but the figure does not take account of inflation.
A reduction in spending this year will make it difficult for France to fulfil President Chirac's European commitment to devote 3 per cent of gross domestic product to research by 2010, compared with 2.2 per cent this year.
Research budget provisions include the creation of 100 posts for engineers and technicians, and 400 short-term contracts for young PhDs - but also the axeing of 150 tenured research posts through non-replacement of retiring staff.
The National Union of Scientific Researchers accused the government of attempting to present a distorted research budget. "Nobody has been fooled," the union said.
Meanwhile, spending on higher education will rise next year, with priorities including creation of new university posts.
This is the first state budget of the Conservative government elected in June. It follows Mr Chirac's promises to cut taxes and give priority to law and order. Out of an education budget of €62.8 billion, higher education's share is €8.8 billion, a rise of just over 1 per cent compared with 2002. Four main areas will benefit:
* Five hundred new teaching posts will help cater for the wider choice of university courses now available, many of them geared to professional training. In addition, 700 administrative and technical jobs will be created
* Increased funds for universities' running costs, especially for student mobility, improved library services and for closing the gap between resources of relatively under-financed universities and those that are better off
* Renovation of run-down student accommodation
* More grants for students from poor families and better access for disabled students.
But the sector will fare less well than it would have done under the former socialist-led government, whose plans had provided for twice as many new teaching posts in higher education.