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On 1 January 2009, one fourth of France’s universities were granted autonomous status with full control over their budgets, their staff, their salaries and other matters which previously fell under the state’s competences. In absolute numbers, the decision affects 20 of the currently 82 French universities (in fact, the three universities of Strasbourg merged to become one in the same process), accounting for more than 300 000 students and some 19 000 teaching staff.
To facilitate the transition, each autonomous institution is granted EUR 250 000 to finance staff training and other expenses occurred in the process. By 2012, all French universities will be given autonomous status. The new “freedom” also foresees that universities may buy property (e.g. their own buildings) and seek financial support from individual or corporate donors.
Many lecturers, researchers, students and university staff have expressed their fear of privatisation of the French higher education sector and of growing disparities among the institutions. It is up to the universities to prove that they are worthy of their new status and to implement a system which encourages initiative and enterprise while rewarding individual merit and hard work.