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France: More excellence for higher education and research

On 3 February, the French Prime Minister François Fillon announced the results of the second round of the IDEX (Initiatives d’excellence) competition in research and higher education in France. This competition is part of the country’s “Investment in the Future” (Investissement d’avenir) initiative. The aim is to support the development of 5-10 multidisciplinary ‘poles of excellence’ in higher education and research, which should be able to attract the brightest students, lecturers and researchers, and to compete globally with top research universities. Thus, based on a joint proposal of the General Commissioner for Investment, René Ricol, and the Minister of Education and Science, Laurent Wauquiez, and in compliance with the opinion of an international jury led by Jean-Marc Rapp, President of the European University Association (EUA), a new round of five university campuses of ‘world calibre’ has been selected: 
  • Sorbonne Université; 
  • Université Sorbonne Paris-Cité;
  • Paris-Saclay;
  • Université de Toulouse; and 
  • Aix-Marseille Université.
Together with three other institutions which had been selected in the first round of the IDEX competition (Idex Bordeaux, UNISTRA Strasbourg and Paris Sciences et Lettres), the five winners will benefit from more than EUR 7.7 billion of public funding. These monies are allocated by the government in order to give universities the means to implement their research ambitions, and to achieve greater international visibility. Mergers and regrouping of universities in broader alliances featuring connections between universities, research institutions and écoles have also been part of the government’s policy to strengthen the university sector (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, January 2012).
In his award speech, the prime minister stressed that “France’s President has decided to focus efforts on research and innovation since 2007”, and the government “has invested in knowledge on an unprecedented scale”. The university policy of Nicolas Sarkozy is thus presented in his presidential campaign as having achieved success on many fronts, from the university autonomy reform to the recruitment of talented foreign students. However, the other major candidate seeking the presidency – the French Socialist party leader, François Hollande – has identified some flaws in the current higher education policy. In his Le projet ‘manifesto’, outlining his vision of France’s future, Hollande highlights the general need “to restore the hope of new generations”. More specifically, he promises to reform the first levels of higher education in order to avoid students’ narrow specialisation; reinforce university autonomy; regularise internships; abolish the strict rules recently introduced limiting foreign graduates’ options to stay and work in France; boost international academic cooperation and exchange; simplify research funding procedures; and accelerate the implementation of the Investment into the Future programme, which was launched by the outgoing president. French government (in French) Le Monde (in French) François Hollande – education policy (in French)