FRANCE: Higher education and research still a priority

Higher education and research remain next year's chief priority in the French budget, totalling just over EUR29 billion (US$42.5 billion), an increase of 5.3% over 2009. The high allocation is in keeping with President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election promise to increase the sector's funding by EUR1.8 billion annually over five years until 2012, in an effort to make France succeed in the "worldwide battle for intelligence".

No new posts have been created, but higher education and research have been spared job cuts, unlike other public sectors. In contrast, the budget for primary and secondary education, the highest state expense at EUR59.6 billion, will mean 16,000 axed posts, equivalent to nearly half of all departures due to retirement.

Valérie Pécresse, Minister of Higher Education and Research, presented her budget which provided increases to improve academics' and researchers' careers, follow through research and university reforms, and continue initiatives to encourage student success.

She said her first priority was to "strengthen the attractiveness of careers", and announced an extra EUR263.5 million for such items as increased salaries and bonuses, and extra funding for universities granted autonomy under the LRU (Universities' Freedom and Responsibilities) reform. From January, these will account for 51 of France's 80 universities.

Her second aim was to support research reforms, with increased funding of EUR804 million including EUR206 million for national research organisations' expenditure on such items as salaries, restructuring and improving laboratories.

A tax credit equivalent to EUR530 million would encourage private research, serving as an anti-crisis "shock absorber", and allowing industry to maintain research and development expenditure at EUR5 billion.

Third, universities will receive an extra EUR995 million under the 2010 budget, with average state funding for each student rising to EUR9,511, an increase of EUR379 over 2009.

The money is programmed for such measures as Réussir en licence, an initiative to help students choose appropriate courses and succeed in their bachelor studies, and to increase and improve student accommodation and other support services.