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Cablegate: France's New Research Minister to Reform Universities

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R 301111Z MAY 07 ZDK MULTI SVC
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7683
INFO RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC
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RUEHMRE/AMCONSUL MARSEILLE 1735
RUEHSR/AMCONSUL STRASBOURG 0430

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PARIS 002224

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR G, OES, EUR
STATE PASS NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
WHITE HOUSE FOR OSTP
DOE FOR INTERNATIONAL
USDOC FOR NOAA, OFFICE OF ADMINISTRATOR, INTERNATIONAL
HHS FOR INTERNATIONAL
EPA FOR INTERNATIONAL
EMBASSIES FOR SCIENCE OFFICERS; BRUSSELS FOR USEU ESTH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: TSPL SENV PINR KPAO FR
SUBJECT: FRANCE'S NEW RESEARCH MINISTER TO REFORM UNIVERSITIES


REF: A) 06 PARIS 7882; B) 05 PARIS 6874

PARIS 00002224 001.4 OF 003


//NOT FOR INTERNET DISSEMINATION//

1. Summary: On May 18, parliamentarian and spokesperson for France's
center right UMP party, Valerie Pecresse, was appointed as a full
minister for Higher Education and Research in the new Sarkozy
government. (In the previous government a 'junior' minister held
the same portfolio.) Pecresse will need that status for the tasks
ahead are arduous: deepening the reforms of France's
scientific/innovation system begun in recent years (see ref A),
while initiating a major change in direction for France's
traditional, governmental university system. The goal is to make
universities the center of gravity for research and to shed them of
their slow-to-change governmental nature. End Summary.

-------------------------------
University reform tops the list
-------------------------------

2. According to recent reports, Pecresse's top priority as new
Minister for Higher Education and Research will be to develop an
"autonomous status" for universities to help them "adapt to a more
competitive world economy." Ultimately, French universities are to
find their place "at the core of the research effort." Existing
public research establishments would continue to perform independent
research but would further transition into "funding councils,"
tasked with the role of supporting the best university research
teams. These measures are decidedly controversial in France's
traditional research system which only recently began competing for
government research funding. During the presidential campaign,
candidate Sarkozy pledged that funding would increase 50% for higher
education and 25% for research by 2012. While favoring university
reform under certain conditions, student organizations have already
cautioned against a too hasty attempt to change the system.

--------------------
A jurist at the helm
--------------------

3. Although Valerie Pecresse, 39, does not possess scientific
credentials, she attended HEC ('Hautes Etudes Commerciales') and ENA
(the prestigious 'Ecole Nationale d'Administration'), before joining
the Council of State in 1992 as an auditor-jurist. In her several
years there, she rose through the ranks to become 'master of
inquests'. From 1995-98, she served as secretary general of Agence
France Presse's oversight committee and, concurrently, as jurist on
the Council of State's Contentious Issues Board. She joined the
staff of former President Chirac's Elysee Palace office in 1998
responsible for "emerging issues." In 2000, she became Counselor
for Technology and Information. (Pecresse reportedly taught
President Chirac how to use the Internet.) During Chirac's 2002
reelection campaign, Pecresse is credited with having a considerable
talent for public communications. She was elected as National
Assembly Deputy in June 2002 and served in the Assembly's Law
Commission. Since 2004, she assumed the role of UMP spokesperson.


4. Additionally, during her period at the Council of State,
Pecresse specialized in telecommunications, environmental, and
social affairs issues. In the National Assembly, she developed
interests in areas such as information technologies, biotechnology,
genetics, and bioethics, as well as children's and family issues.

-------------------------------
A full-fledged ministry, but...
-------------------------------

5. Despite a reduction in the number of ministers and ministries in
the new government, the higher education and research portfolio has
evolved from 'junior ministrial' status in the former government to
a fully independent ministry; Pecresse will report directly to Prime
Minister Fillon. The ministry is ranked ninth out of the 15
ministries. Notwithstanding the manifold efforts of the previous

PARIS 00002224 002.4 OF 003


government to reform France's scientific/innovation system, she
inherits a ministry subject to multiple and redundant structures,
uncertain funding, and insufficient strategic direction and
coordination. (Note: Pecresse will be the seventh minister in
charge of research since 2000.) On the higher education side of her
portfolio, long overdue university reform has been repeatedly
postponed due to political pressure.

--------------------------------
Ongoing scientific system reform
--------------------------------

6. Moreover, France's new scientific/innovation system is
considered a 'work in progress.' It was only in April 2006 that the
country adopted the important research and innovation bill (RIB, ref
A), providing for the creation of semi-independent structures: a
National Research Agency with its competitive grant system;
competitiveness clusters; Research and Higher Education Hubs; and
Advanced Research Thematic Foundations. Most recently, the
government formed an Evaluation Agency (AERES) for scientific
research. Evaluation of the work of public researchers has been a
particularly sensitive subject - where traditionally little
difference is made in public establishments between quality of
research as regards promotion and funding. Moreover, the newly-set
up AERES system has yet to be put to the test. The RIB also aims to
reinforce science-industry relationships and encourage private R&D
funding, recurrent weaknesses in the French research system.

7. At university level, with 88 university poles and 80 percent of
public research theoretically 'hosted' by universities via joint
research labs, the university sector, traditionally the poor
relation to public research in France, keeps voicing its discontent
over the loss of university standing, lack of equipment, and
organizational cumbersomeness. (According to the most recent
Shanghai ranking of universities worldwide, the highest-ranked
French university came in at 46th place.)

----------------------------------------
Changes in university governance sought...
----------------------------------------

8. In order to reboot university research, the new GOF has decided
to reinforce the role and autonomy of universities. A new status
will grant (candidate) universities freedom to modify the structure
of the university boards (change of governance); undertake their own
staff recruitment; set their own agendas, syllabuses, and research
programs; fix salaries; and manage their own budgets via
foundations, private donors or companies. Also reportedly in the
pipeline is an increase of student registration fees (possible
"adjustment" according to family income) and a form of "selection"
of students at entrance, or at least the introduction of student
orientation according to job opportunities and not necessarily
according to students' wishes. Other possible measures include a
new grant allocation system based not only on revenues but also
according to student merit, as well as measures to improve students'
living and working conditions. According to the GOF agenda, the
reform will be voted on during the summer and "experimented with" as
early as this fall.

9. The Sarkozy program will also include reinforcing the role of
universities in research and, ultimately, the transformation of
public research establishments into agencies responsible for the
funding of projects according to national priorities. This would be
nothing short of revolutionary in the French scientific system and
prove undoubtedly highly controversial to implement.

------------------
Top research goals
------------------

10. Priorities for research are fourfold:
-- Reinforce a culture of scientific evaluation by promoting
competitive grants; program funding (as opposed to institutional
funding) should become the rule;
-- Implementation of independent evaluation procedures;

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-- Preventing brain drain and attracting international talent,
through, inter alia, improving work conditions for young
researchers.
-- Increasing the percentage of industrial research in overall
research. (Currently little more than half of France's research
funding is devoted to industrial research. The target will be to
increase this amount to two-thirds of total research at the 2012
horizon).

Priority fields for research discussed in the presidential campaign
included: life sciences, nanotechnology, and environmental and
energy technologies.

---------------------------------
Comment: Neither easy nor fast...
---------------------------------

12. New Higher Education and Research Minister Pecresse faces one
of the most sensitive tasks in the new government of reforming
highly politicized French universities. The new government's desire
to push forward in this area has already triggered negative
reactions among French student organizations. University presidents
have also requested in-depth consultations before reform processes
are initiated. It will also be interesting to watch whether
Pecresse succeeds in the task of shifting resources away from
research agencies to the university sector. End Comment.

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