FRANCE: Projects and campuses 'of excellence' chosen

The first 100 projects selected for funding under the government's 'Labex' (Laboratories of Excellence) programme have been announced, together with a preliminary shortlist of seven university federations for 'Idex' (Initiatives of Excellence) status, part of a plan to create internationally competitive centres of higher education and research.

Both programmes will be financed with interest generated by a EUR35 billion (US$50 billion) national loan announced by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2009 to fund strategic investments, notably in higher education and research.

The 100 Labex projects presented in March by Prime Minister François Fillon were chosen from 241 applications by an international jury chaired by physicist Professor Manuel Velarde of the University Complutense of Madrid.

There are 26 projects in the field of arts and human sciences, 23 in biology and health, 17 in environment and the universe, 15 in digital science, 10 in energy and nine in nanotechnologies.

The greatest concentration is in the Ile-de-France region including and around Paris, where the higher education and research federations Sorbonne Universités, Paris Sciences et Lettres, Paris Cité, Hésam, Saclay and Paris-Est account for more than half the Labex projects. Other well-represented regions are Alsace, Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côtes d'Azur.

The Idex jury, chaired by Professor Jean-Marc Rapp, President of the European University Association, has so far shortlisted seven campuses - Paris Science et Lettres Etoile and Sorbonne Universités in Paris, and the Universities of Strasbourg, Lyon, Grenoble, Bordeaux and Toulouse - which together account for the lion's share of the Labex projects.

The government is allocating EUR7.7 billion for Idex, which is intended to produce between five and 10 higher education and research institutions of excellence to fulfill Sarkozy's ambition for France to figure prominently among the top universities of the world.

Final selections for both Labex and Idex are due to be made in the summer, after institutions have made further applications and jury hearings have taken place.

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