Problems of Research in France
Dal sito Roars.it
by Alan Trautman
Why it’s so important to demonstrate now and what are you hoping to achieve? «Sciences en Marche is one of the initiatives launched in 2014 for trying to alert the population, the medias, the Parliament and the government, on the fact that if we do nothing, our research system will progressively be dismantled. With the same type of logic, austerity will increase, deflation would install, public services will get smaller and weaker, and all the country will go straight in the wall. I consider important to struggle for the defence of research not because it would be a question more important than education or health system. It is important because it has a symbolic value, it may have long lasting and large consequences for the future, and its cost is quite modest compared to health or education. And also compared to the major corporate tax reductions that our government has recently decided.»
What is the state of research in your country and how researchers are living?
France is somewhere at the border between Northern and Southern European countries. If one compares the situation of research in France and in Greece, Spain, Portugal or Italy, it is a good one. Thus, there still is a high level public research in our country, CNRS is well known at an international level (each year, 30% of people hired for a permanent CNRS position are not French). However, the global investment of France in research is much below that of research in Germany or in Northern European countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland). In addition, the organization of public research and of universities has deeply changed during the last decade (see below), such that many researchers are very stressed and anxious, so that some of them, whether or not they have a job, either emigrate or quit science. This state of depression is not specific to research, it is shared by many other people in the country. However, it is quite upsetting for people, like me, who are convinced that another policy is quite possible, in a rich country like France.
How the distribution of funds for research and for the university has changed over the past decade?
Over the last decade, the global R&D effort of our country (public + corporate) has remained desperately stagnant, slightly above 2%. Thus, the Lisbon treaty of 2000 (and its 3% objective) has by no means been respected. There have even been clear attempts to reduce our public effort, for instance by Jacques Chirac in 2003, which has led to the movement “Sauvons La Recherche” in 2004, which has blocked this first cutting attempt.
Since then, the only major change has been the huge increase of the “Crédit Impôt Recherche“, decided by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. This measure, which now costs 6000 million euros every year, is a tax reduction for private companies that have a research activity (or pretend to do so, for some banks and insurance companies). This is counted in the “public effort for research”, but is not at all for public research or universities. This and other tricks have allowed N. Sarkozy to claim that he has been doing major efforts in favour of research, in an attempt to hide the real stagnation for global funding (with major changes in the allocation system), and clear reductions in stable jobs in public research. This reduction has become very clear after 2009, and François Hollande now applies very conscientiously the policy of Sarkozy. The latter, inspired by the “excellence initiative” initiated by Germany, has launched in 2010 a similar initiative called “Programme d’investissement d’avenir (PIA)”, for which he has decided a 20 billion euros public loan. However, his government has simultaneously operated a series of cuts, so that the global balance is close to zero; in addition, the mode of attribution of these PIA grants was awfully complex, and has required hundreds of years of equivalent researchers activity to write the projects, fill the forms, and pay consulting firms to write them, so as to fit in the requirements of the “New Public Management“.
Thus, 14 years after the Lisbon treaty, the public effort for research and universities has not changed, but the mode of attribution of this funds and the global organization of research has deeply changed. For each researcher, the time required for obtaining this constant amount of money (compulsory for having the possibility of working) has increased vertiginously.