More funding for HE, priority for students in austerity budget

Higher education and research have been relatively spared in France’s austerity budget. While most other ministries have experienced cuts, the sector’s allocation for 2013 rose by 2.2% over the previous year, totalling nearly €23 billion (US$30 billion), with priority going to student support and including funding for 1,000 new university posts.

The budget’s €514 million increase was in spite of the economic crisis, and against a predicted 3.5% cut for higher education and research made earlier this year after the socialist-led government came to power.

Geneviève Fioraso, higher education and research minister, expressed satisfaction. “With an increased budget in this very constrained climate, we shall manage,” she said.

Her chief priority was student support, including more funding for housing – in line with government policy to build 40,000 new units in five years – and increased grants, including introduction of a 10th month for the 650,000 students receiving them.

To help improve the low first-degree pass rate 1,000 new university jobs for academic, research and non-teaching staff will be created, at a cost of €27.9 million.

This is the first stage of a five-year plan for 5,000 new posts as promised in the socialist election manifesto in the spring. Universities will also benefit from increased state finance for building and renovation projects under state-region contracts.

Research funding will rise by €90 million to €7.86 billion, 1.2% over 2012. Fioraso emphasised there would be no cuts in the 68,449 public research posts.

“Research organisations can therefore replace members of staff who are retiring in all categories – researchers, engineers, administrative and technical personnel. The next generation of [research] teams will therefore be guaranteed,” a ministry statement confirmed.

There will also be a ‘rebalancing’ of research spending, with more funding allocated to research organisations and less to the Agence Nationale de Recherche, whose role of selecting projects from research bids will be limited to fewer themes.

The research budget maintains at 2012 levels France’s contributions to international programmes, says the ministry. It also allows for a 3.7% increase in the state’s participation in the European Space Agency, to €799 million, and the ITER thermonuclear energy programme, up 58% to €100 million.