5 February 2013

French science reform: Hollande's speech

Yesterday, French President François Hollande gave a speech at the Collège de France in honour of Serge Haroche (laureate of the Nobel prize in physics, 2012.) A substantial part of the talk addressed the changes in the French research system to be introduced by the new government.

The talking points were of course in line with the documents already made public: the Berger report, the Le Déaut report and the law project to be introduced this spring, but the tone of the speech (calm and conciliatory) was very different from that of former President Nicolas Sarkozy. An instructive comparison can be made with Sarkozy's speech of January 2008, given in very similar circumstances: announcing science reform, at the beginning of his mandate, on the occasion of celebrating a Nobel prize in physics (Albert Fert, 2007.)

 Hollande's message can be summarized as follows:
  1. Research and higher education are a priority, as proven by the constant funding for the relevant ministry (alongside that of national education), while all other ministries had to deal with budget cuts. This way, 1000 new positions per year will be opened in higher education. The "investments for the future" program launched by the Sarkozy administration will be maintained and accelerated.
  2. Increase the undergraduate success rate and avoid premature specialization.
  3. The system must be restructured, with fewer and more visible institutions, at all levels. A memorable quote: "We cannot keep on adding structures on top of structures, layers upon layers. Here, as elsewhere, we need to simplify". Build federations of universities!
  4. The universities and the grandes écoles must be brought together, "without however mixing them up".
  5. The professional status of PhD holders must be improved. First of all, we should make them more attractive for the private sector, but this will never happen until we also recognize the PhD as an asset in the selection process for state employees.
  6. The autonomy [of the universities] is the foundation of this reform. Some changes will be made to the election procedures within the universities.
  7. Student exchanges will be facilitated, in particular by easing the administrative procedures for foreign students in France. Teaching in foreign languages.
  8. Improve the perspectives of young researchers, especially in fundamental research.

Links above are in French. Some background information in English is available:
  • On the French system of higher education and research: 1
  • On the relation between universities and grandes écoles: 2 
  • On the reforms of the Sarkozy administration: 3, 45
  • On the current reforms: 6

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