FRANCE: Proposals for greater university research role

Valérie Pécresse, Minister for Higher Education and Research, has approved proposals designed to streamline administration of the French research system. The measures are in line with government reforms to give universities a greater research role.

The proposals were made in the report* of a working group appointed by Pécresse last November under the chairmanship of former Research Minister François d'Aubert. The group was asked to consider how to redefine partnerships between the big research organisations - such as the multi-disciplinary National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Inserm, the health and medical research institute - and teaching establishments, the universities and grandes écoles.

At present, French research is structured around the CNRS and other research bodies and with few exceptions universities play a minor role. There are about 1,300 public mixed research units whose scientific supervision is jointly managed by one or more research organisations and one or more universities.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has committed his government to giving the universities a greater role, placing them at the centre of the research system (see Researchers protest against Sarkozy's reforms, University World News, 30 March 2008).

The d'Aubert report is in line with two major reforms: the 2006 Pact for Research and the Universities' Freedoms and Responsibilities legislation passed last year. The measures accepted by Pécresse are intended to redefine the balance of responsibility between the research partners and simplify the bureaucracy governing the system.

Presenting the report, d'Aubert said the group's findings were, above all, practical: "Some people wondered if we were appointed to organise a research tsunami when the commission started [work]," he said. "In fact, we have made a number of pragmatic recommendations."

These include placing universities and organisations on an equal footing when negotiating research agreements, which will cover a period of four years and assume co-management of laboratories. To cut bureaucracy, only two supervisory bodies - one university and one research organisation - will be allowed, instead of four or more as at present. Other measures will harmonise procedures, such as accounting, public purchasing, information systems and matters concerning staff, such as conditions of recruitment.

Pécresse has said she will open consultations with interested parties on the report's recommendations.

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