FRANCE: Priority for higher education and research

Despite an austerity budget aimed at cutting at least EUR40 billion (US$55.75 billion) from total state spending, for the fourth year running higher education and research remain a French government priority having been spared the deep cuts and job losses made in other areas of the 2011 budget.

Minister for higher education and research Valérie Pécresse said the budget for her sector was "exceptional in the context of a reduction of the public deficit".

But to fulfil the commitment of the French republic's President Nicolas Sarkozy to increase spending on higher education and research by EUR9 billion over five years, the minister is relying on extra-budgetary measures to boost this year's state allocation of EUR25.2 billion.

In 2011 funding for higher education will rise by EUR428 million, or 1.3%, to a total of EUR14.9 billion, as reforms such as university autonomy continue to take effect. The increase includes EUR134 million for upgrading staff pay, and EUR71 million for introduction of a 10th month of student grants. Spending on each university student will average EUR10,219, compared with EUR9,511 last year.

For research, whose share of gross domestic product rose from 2.07% in 2007 to 2.21% in 2009, the allocation for 2011 will increase by 2.7% to EUR10.3 billion.

However, the combined budgetary increase of 1.9% for higher education and research was lower than that of 2.7% in 2010; and the EUR468 million extra funding was well below the annual EUR1.8 billion pledged by Sarkozy when he took office.

During his presidential election campaign in 2007 Sarkozy promised priority for higher education and research to equip France for the "worldwide battle for intelligence" - and improve the country's performance in international rankings. He undertook to increase funding for higher education by EUR5 billion, and for research and innovation by EUR4 billion, during the five-year period up to 2012.

Pécresse insisted the president's EUR9 billion commitment was being respected. The state budget combined with tax breaks to encourage private research and other extra-budgetary resources would add up to the EUR1.1 billion. Further investments of more than EUR3.5 billion to be unfrozen next year would boost supplementary funding dedicated to higher education and research in 2011 to a total of nearly EUR4.7 billion.

But the Syndicat national de l'enseignement supérieur (Snesup-FSU), or national union of higher education, the majority lecturers' union, condemned it as a budget to "reassure the financial markets" which meant "austerity for employees, for public services, for higher education and research".

However, higher education and research have fared better than other public sectors. Under the state's biggest budget, education, schools face 16,000 teaching and administrative job losses.