France: Emmanuel Macron wants to transform research and advocates more autonomy for universities

On Thursday 7 December, Emmanuel Macron launched the Presidential Council for Science. For the occasion, he brought together dozens of researchers at the Élysée Palace and announced a major transformation of French research.

Emmanuel Macron during the Presidential Science Council on December 7, 2023. AFP - LUDOVIC MARIN

By: RFI Follow


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Emmanuel Macron has promised a real revolution to make research in France more competitive and that the country remains "a great nation of knowledge". This is a revolution for the entire research system, which is often criticized for its great complexity and bureaucratic burdens.

The French president wants to succeed in transforming the major national research organisations, such as the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) and the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRAE). He wants to turn them into real program agencies, who are strategists in their field.

The objective is to remedy a fragmentation that weakens the global position of French researchers and France's ability to be at the forefront of scientific innovations. This disorderly fragmentation "deprives us," says Emmanuel Macron, "of focusing on major shared challenges, prevents us from being reactive in the event of an emergency and diminishes our ability to be attractive in the world as well."

The establishment of a Presidential Council of Science

The head of state also deplored what he called "the strange defeat of the vaccine" against Covid-19, France having discovered the principle of messenger RNA, but having not been able to develop the remedy.

The President of the Republic has also set up a Presidential Council for Science to enlighten him on the scientific challenges of the future, composed of a dozen researchers, including the Nobel Prize in Physics Alain Aspect and the Nobel Prize in Economics Jean Tirole. This body "is not intended to play the role" of the Scientific Council set up during the Covid-19 pandemic, nor to "replace" the Academy of Sciences, the President of the Republic said.

Towards greater autonomy for universities

In unveiling this new roadmap, Emmanuel Macron took the opportunity to advocate more "autonomy" for universities so that they "organize and manage research" at the local level. President Macron refrained from mentioning a change in the "status" of higher education and research staff, a casus belli for the sector's unions.

Act one of autonomy, under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, gave rise to a long tug-of-war between the executive and the teacher-researchers joined by the student unions during the winter of 2007-2008. The Freedom and Responsibilities of Universities Act (LRU) of August 2007, known as the "Pécresse Law", transformed the governance of universities by giving them more autonomy: institutions manage their budget - the main axes are no longer predetermined by the State - and their human resources - in particular the wage bill.


We need more autonomy, because we need to be more agile, in order to implement public research policies ", welcomed Guillaume Gellé, President of France Universités.

Read alsoHow the University crushes young researchers - precariousness, harassment, code of silence


And with AFP)

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