Higher Education Secretary Fioraso resigns

France’s dynamic state secretary for higher education and research, Geneviève Fioraso, has resigned for health reasons. Fioraso’s achievements during her tenure included a major national debate into the future of higher education and research which led to a new framework law.

She was also able to maintain levels of funding and jobs during a time of austerity and cuts in other budgets; simplify processes for first and masters degrees; and launch an ambitious building programme for student housing.

Among her many achievements, she extended student grants, introduced a national ‘student-entrepreneur’ statute, and adopted reforms – opposed by research unions – to increase research competitiveness while working towards bringing universities and the selective grandes écoles closer together – all this while managing a budget of €23 billion [US$25 billion] for more than 200 institutions.

Fioraso had been responsible for higher education and research since the socialist-led government came to power in May 2012, first as minister then as state secretary, most recently under Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, minister for national education, higher education and research, who temporarily takes over Fioraso’s responsibilities.

She had already announced in February that she would be cutting down on her ministerial duties because of health problems. In an interview in Le Dauphiné Libéré Fioraso explained why she was standing down:

“My state of health is incompatible with the post of minister and it is impossible to be a minister part-time... I manage a budget of €23 billion for more than 200 institutions [and] to do it well I must be on form and in the field,” she said. “The doctors tell me I have to devote myself to the treatment. Three weeks ago I had already said I wanted to cut down on my activities. Today I have decided to stop, and it is heartbreaking for me.”

Her departure was announced in a statement from the Elysée Palace, the office of President François Hollande, last Thursday afternoon. Hollande wished Fioraso a good recovery and thanked her for her “action accomplished in the service of excellence of French research and the modernisation of higher education”.

It is expected the post will remain vacant until after departmental elections at the end of March, when a government reshuffle is likely. A prominent potential successor is Alain Claeys, socialist member of parliament for Vienne and mayor of Poitiers, who is a specialist in higher education and research.

Other possible successors include two academics – Bertrand Monthubert, president of University of Toulouse-3, and Marie-Christine Lemardeley, former president of University of Paris-3, who is currently in charge of higher education, research and student life at Paris City Hall.