FRANCE: First super-campuses chosen

The first six campuses to qualify for substantially increased funding under government plans to make French universities internationally competitive will be in the towns of Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lyon, Montpellier, Strasbourg and Toulouse. The projects, each consisting of several higher education and research establishments, are at the heart of President Nicolas Sarkozy's determination to see France feature prominently among the top universities in the world.

Valérie Pécresse, Higher Education and Research Minister, accepted recommendations of the selection committee of Operation Campus which chose the six winners out of 46 projects submitted. The remaining four should be announced by about mid-July. Between them the successful projects concern 38 universities and other higher education establishments, all the principal research organisations, 340,000 students and 13,000 researchers. Parisian projects, of which 13 were submitted, are conspicuous by their absence.

Operation Campus is a EUR5 billion initiative promised by Sarkozy during his 2007 election campaign. Its aim is to create at least 10 centres of excellence of higher education and research, and place France among the highest ranking international universities (see "Government promises new campuses - for some", University World News, 6 April 2008).

By concentrating resources on just a few elite establishments, Operation Campus indicates the present government's intention to end the principle of equality in the French university system. While the two previous expansion and renovation programmes, during the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s, concerned all 80-plus universities, many will be left disappointed as a result of the new initiative.

"The competitive character of this selection is very modern, and in line with the spirit of autonomy for the universities as they are the ones who developed their projects, and not the ministry," Pécresse told Le Monde.

A ministry statement said all six projects clearly fulfilled the necessary Operation Campus criteria, which stressed their scientific and pedagogical ambition, the urgency for building renovations, making their campuses more user-friendly and involvement with regional authorities and businesses.

The six winners, between them situated in five regions of the country, are:

*Pôle de Recherche et d'Enseignement Supérieur (PRES), Université de Bordeaux, which combines the four Bordeaux universities, three engineering schools and Sciences Po Bordeaux. The new University of Bordeaux will cater for 60,000 students including 7,500 from abroad, and employ 3,100 teachers and researchers. Its four specialist areas will cover science and technology, biology and health, human and social sciences and engineering.

*Grenoble, Université de l'Innovation, merges three universities and the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble. The new project will be developed on two sites, and its notable specialties will include micro- and nanotechnologies. Nearly 50,000 students, including 7,000 foreigners, currently attend the founding establishments, and 2,000 teachers and researchers work there.

*Lyon Cité Campus of the PRES Université Lyon. Two Lyon sites were selected for the operation: the campus Charles Mérieux which specialises in biosciences and human and social sciences; and La Doua, a prominent centre for science and technology for sustainable development.

*Université Montpellier Sud de France, comprises the Universities of Montpellier 1, 2 and 3, which cater for 60,000 students and 4,200 teachers and researchers. Areas of research are agronomy and environment, biology and health, and chemistry, each working closely with the interdisciplinary department of maths, computer science, physics, structures and systems.

Two new interdisciplinary centres are in course of development, specialising in human sciences and society, and business.

*The new multidisciplinary Université de Strasbourg will be formed on 1 January next year from the city's three present universities which specialise in science and medicine, arts and human sciences, and law and political science. The merged establishment will cater for 42,000 students, 20% of them foreign, with nearly 1,500 teachers and researchers. Only one university site, Historique-Esplanade, will be concerned in Operation Campus.

*PRES, Université de Toulouse, unites the three existing Toulouse universities. It aims to build on the region's international reputation in science and technology, notably in the fields of aeronautics, space and economics, and develop multidisciplinary teaching and research around nanotechnologies; health, ageing and nutrition; and environment, risk and organisation. Only two university sites, Rangueil and Toulouse-centre, were selected for the project.

These chosen centres now have six months to complete details of their building programmes, partnerships and financial plans before presenting their detailed projects to the selection committee for final ratification at the end of November.