Hollande pledges €2 billion for excellence initiatives

French President François Hollande has announced funding of €2 billion (US$2.7 billion) for the creation of new regional university research centres, under a second wave of ‘Initiatives of Excellence’, or Idex.

Speaking at ISIS, the Institut de Science et d’Ingénierie Supramoléculaires at the University of Strasbourg, Hollande also promised to protect spending on public research, in spite of the government’s obligation to make economies of €50 billion in the next three years.

The Idex are part of the government’s Future Investments initiative – Programme Investissements d’Avenir or PIA – introduced by Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy with the aim of making France more internationally competitive in research and innovation.

Hollande said he had “decided to undertake a new wave of Idex, with funding of €2 billion” under the second PIA.

The government announced additional funding of €12 billion for the PIA last July, when a new higher education and research law came into force.

The legislation steered by Geneviève Fioraso, minister for higher education and research, paved the way for increased cooperation between universities and other higher education institutions, research organisations and companies.

It is expected between three and five new Idex will be added to the eight already in existence, which are situated in Bordeaux, Marseille, Strasbourg and Toulouse as well as four in and around Paris. Funding for this first wave, announced in 2010, totalled €7.7 billion.

Like the first Idex, the new projects would be selected by an international jury, said Hollande, and the resources would involve “researchers in a region brought together in a grouping of universities ‘of excellence’ to intensify their research programmes and cooperation”.

He said he was also allocating an extra €1 billion from the PIA (but not under the Idex plan) to encourage smaller, ‘regionally sized’ universities to group together in their area and forge links with research bodies, local businesses and other economic actors.

Another plan Hollande announced under the PIA was for €100 million over five years for a systems biology network to be set up by universities and national research organisations. This would aim to “invent new individualised medical treatments, adapted to each patient”, he said.

In Strasbourg Hollande also confirmed his support for public research, “for which funding must be preserved”, he said.

“We must make priorities, we cannot make economies simply by calculations or algorithms; we must have a vision – what are the essential public policies?” he said.

“Among essential priorities is public research, because it is an economic lever for other advances…It is an investment.”