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Third autonomy wave in France

At mid-summer, Valérie Pécresse, French Minister of Higher Education and Research, announced that 24 more universities will become autonomous as of 1 January 2011.  This raises the number of autonomous universities in France to 75, or 90% of all institutions of this type within the hexagone. The law on the autonomy of universities, dated 10 August 2007, stipulates that by the year 2012 all French universities should have gained autonomy. Universities are, however, just one of the main types of higher education institutions in France.

While this new slate of universities gained autonomy, the summer also brought a much-awaited verdict on the legality of this higher education act. The French Constitutional Council has examined whether the delegation of tasks and responsibilities to the universities infringes on the right of university professors to equal treatment and on their independent status. According to this new legal act, academic staff is recruited by a pre-selection committee made up of other professors and academic staff mostly from outside the university – a composition that could be biased, claim the forces opposing this change. The previous selection process was entrusted to an independent committee of experts. Furthermore, under the new law, the allocation of tasks (between research and teaching) is decided upon by the university administrative council, a change seriously affecting the status of enseignants-chercheurs, the same actors claim. These have been the most contested stipulations in the constitutional council and were a major cause for the great turmoil throughout France in the academic year 2009 (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, February 2009).

While confirming the constitutionality of the two provisions, the constitutional council expressed reservation over the ‘veto right’ of university presidents, which could have granted the latter discretionary power if misused. Accordingly, the university leaders will not be able to reject a nomination on grounds unshared by the university administration.

Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche (in French) – List of universities
Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche (in French) – Constitutional challenge