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France’s first woman as Minister for Education and Research

For the first time in history, France welcomes a woman as a Minister for National education, higher education and research. With the government reshuffle of 26 August, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, 36 years old, was appointed to the post, replacing Benoît Hamon. In particular, for the areas of Higher education and Research she will liaise with the State Secretary Geneviève Fioraso, who is keeping the same portfolio (Higher education and research) since 2012. The second government of Manuel Valls (confirmed as Prime Minister) is composed of 16 ministers.

Ms. Vallaud-Belkacem, who has her own website, seems to represent the icon of a modern woman in search for emancipation. Born in a rural area of Morocco, she moved to France when she was four years old and she grew up in the banlieu of the city of Amiens, reaching Paris for her university studies at the Institut d’Études Politiques, were she earned a licence in Public Law. From 2004 to 2008 she was Regional Councilor of the Rhône-Alpes, and in 2008 she has been elected General Councilor of the Rhône, title that she currently holds. Socialist party affiliate, she served in both previous Hollande governments: from 2012 until April 2014 as Minister for Women’s Rights and spokesperson for the government, while from last April until August she was Minister for Women’s rights, urban policy, youth and sports.

Taking on the Ministry for national education with the beginning of the new academic year, many challenges are awaiting for Ms. Vallaud-Belkacam. First of all, the lack of financial resources and the foreseen state budget cuts for the academic year 2014-2015 are currently among the major worries for French universities. Additionally, universities are undergoing a controversial reform started in July 2013, requiring them to group together forming regional clusters, called 'communautés d'universités et d'établissements à statut fédératif''. Opponents fear that the excessive size of these academic clusters (expected to gather up until 40,000 students, double the size of Harvard University) will lead to an impoverishment of the academic offer and this will further worsen the position of French universities in international rankings.

More about the new French government

Ministère de l'Éducation nationale, de l'Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche (in French)