French researchers call to arms to prevent science reform


Paris – French researchers have begun massive protests to prevent the reform of the national French research system. Valérie Pecresse, the Minister of Research, had announced plans to restructure it.
According to the government’s plans, the country’s largest national research organization, the CNRS (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique), which employs more than 11,000 scientists, is to be split up into six institutes (mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering, human sciences, ecology and biodiversity). All other research topics that have been covered by the CNRS up to now are to be dropped. Natural sciences such as biotechnology or pharmacy are to be attached to associations such as INSERM (Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale). Because INSERM is traditionally linked to applied research, however, the scientists fear that basic research will lose ground in France. The directors of the newly established six research bodies are not to be elected by colleagues, but instead nominated by the government. Anxiety in the research community is high that the government or private sector could begin acting as sponsors for specific research. Under the new plan, public funding is only to be given to finance special, short-term projects.

Researchers fear loss of basic


The CNRS is a focus of national pride in France. It employs more than 32,000 people, including around 11,600 researchers and 14,400 engineers, technicians and administrative personnel. Its budget was EUR3.3 billion in 2008, around EUR588 million of which came from its own resources, mainly from licensing. However, according to a ranking by the Chinese Jiao Tong University (Shanghai) the structure of the CNRS is not compatible with international standards. Valérie Pecresse is trying to change that, and has reminded the protestors of two succesful predecessors. In the mid-80s, the CNRS transfer of the areas of nuclear physics and space into separate institutes was a resounding success, and went off without a hitch.



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