It might have been quite instructive and eye-opening if the writer of your feature on the state of French higher education, “Liberty, autonomy or permanent bureaucracy?” (Features, 20 April), had stepped outside Paris and seen the real situation on the ground.
France’s LRU (Liberté et Responsibilité des Universités) law gave universities limited autonomy, with the ministry remaining in firm control. Universities were allocated budgets insufficient to cover statutory salary obligations – with the result that most are verging on bankruptcy. They have very limited means to raise extra cash as even a rise in tuition fees, which would have unions up in arms, would only mean a reduction in their central budget, with the result being at best no change in the financial position and at worst a deterioration.
With little overall national policy or control, the High Council for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES) is a toothless overseer. Cronyism is as rife as ever, if not more so, especially in smaller institutions. As for the ComUEs (the communautés d’universités et établissements, new groupings of higher education institutions), they have been an expensive waste.
Outside Paris, your correspondent could have visited one of the success stories, such as the University of Strasbourg, which is led by a strong, foresighted president, or a rising star such as Grenoble Alpes University (pictured above). Those could have been compared with the disasters such as Université Bretagne Loire, a ComUE whose institutions have little in common and have not even managed to get LabEx (laboratories for excellence) funding from the National Research Agency (ANR).
Things are disastrous, but that does not mean that the universities outside Paris lack for dedicated, world-class researchers delivering great research and teaching.