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France – vers « pôles pluridisciplinaires d’excellence »

France’s plans to build in-house excellence have finally taken concrete shape, as the first wave of calls for projects under the Investissements d’avenir initiative is now in full swing. Investissements d’avenir is the overarching name for the activities planned in the areas of research and higher education, as part of the “grand emprunt” - a national plan designed to help France boost its economic capacity and strengthen its role as a global player (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, April 2010). The plan has been endowed with a total budget of EUR 35 billion, of which close to 22 billion is to go to innovative initiatives in higher education and research. The National Agency for Research (ANR) is responsible for implementing the higher education and research component.

Of the eight different funding lines of this first wave, the one with by far the highest profile is that of “Initiatives d’excellence”, which should facilitate the creation of 5-10 multi-disciplinary campuses of excellence in France. The proposed centres should have, or be able to develop in the long run, the capacity to successfully compete with prestigious universities such as Harvard, Princeton or Cambridge. As much as a third of the total budget, i.e. EUR 7.7 billion, has been allocated for this purpose. Applications for this funding will be judged against three main criteria: excellence in teaching and research; efficient governance; and the strength of public-private partnerships. The deadline for proposals is 17 December 2010, with the first excellence initiatives to be selected before summer 2011. Successful projects will receive between EUR 700 million and 1 billion for a period of at least four years to implement their excellence strategy.

On a comparative note, the new phase of the German excellence initiative launched earlier this spring, which served as a model for the French approach (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, May 2010) earmarked a total of EUR 2.7 billion for the period from 2012 to 2017 for German campuses of excellence (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, March 2010). In this light, the French initiative looks highly ambitious indeed.

Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche (in French)
Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) (in French)