FRANCE: Higher education escapes budget cuts

Higher education and research were among the few sectors spared in the 2008 budget announced last month. The decision reflects President Nicolas Sarkozy’s election promise to reduce public spending overall but give extra resources to arming France for what he called the “worldwide battle for intelligence”.

The public sector, however, faces unprecedented cuts with nearly 23,000 jobs axed, more than 11,000 in school education. In contrast with the budgets of other ministries (apart from Justice), that of Higher Education and Research minister Valérie Pécresse has risen to €25 billion ($US35 billion) – an extra €1 billion for higher education, and €880 million more for research.

That represents an increase of almost 8% over 2007 – and there will be no reduction in the numbers of jobs.

Pécresse’s targets over the next five years are for 50% of students to reach bachelor’s degree equivalent, “autonomous, responsible and ambitious” universities, two French universities in the top 20 in world rankings and 10 in the first 100, and an increase in research spending to 3% of GDP.

Priority allocations under the 2008 budget include:

* Implementing the new reform giving increased autonomy to universities, with funds for reorganising personnel and administration to handle their extra responsibilities, and for repairs and renovations of buildings before they are transferred to university ownership.
* Actions to improve student life, including reform of the grants system to make it “fairer, simpler and open to the middle classes”; improving access to university premises for the disabled; and support to prevent failure at bachelor’s level. State spending on each student will increase by €405 (US$567) to €7,375.
* Improving the financial situation and working conditions of young researchers.
* More efficient, longer term research planning through the National Research Agency.
* Encouragement of private research, including tax incentives, regarded as essential if France is to meet the European Union’s Lisbon agreement aim to spend 3% of GDP on research.

More information on the French government site