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France’s new minister for research and higher education, Valérie Pécresse (see June edition of the ACA Newsletter – Education Europe), appears decided to overhaul the country’s higher education institutions. The draft of a new higher education law she recently presented to parliament promises universities more decision autonomy and new funds – an additional EUR 50 million over five years.
Valérie Pécresse is not a woman who minces her words. Introducing the bill to the assemblée générale, she spoke of the degradation of the international attractiveness of French universities, highlighted that the first French university appeared only on rank 45 of the Shanghai ranking, deplored the high dropout numbers in French higher education, and ridiculed what she believes are sadly inadequate governance structures. To reform the latter, and to render universities more free, is one of her chief stated objectives: the role of university presidents is to be strengthened, the recruitment of staff is to become easier and faster, and the freedom to manage assets and budgets greater. Valérie Précresse also wants to improve the financial conditions of students, in terms of grants, housing and health care.
As the minister stated in the national assembly, all her predecessor in the last 20 years – from the Right as well as the Left – have tried to reform French higher education for the better. It is to be seen if she will make the big breakthrough.