Go back

French researchers up in arms over CNRS plan

It is not just railway workers who are exercising their traditional French right to protest today, researchers across the country were also due to take to the streets this morning to fight the government’s attempts to “dismantle” the public research system.

Plans to restructure the CNRS, France’s main research agency, have been trundling along for months now, but bubbling concerns from the academic community have boiled over into sheer rage this week as it emerged that Nicolas Sarkozy and Valérie Pécresse have shut them out entirely from the decision making process.

As part of a wider shake up of the higher education system, the government plans to put universities at the centre of the research system. This, it would appear, means stripping the CNRS of its decision making powers and using it only as a body through which government funds can be channelled in specific directions.

Researchers have already registered their discontent with this idea, but they were dealt a huge blow last Tuesday which seemed to seal the organisation’s fate. When members of the CNRS scientific board gathered together to discuss the changes, they were told by Arnold Migus, the CNRS president, that the government was no longer willing to hear their views. Instead it would finalise the reforms on its own.

Shocked by the news, CNRS national committee president Yves Langevin sent letters to 1,000 members, warning them that their organisation was in jeopardy. He also gave an interview to Humanité, saying giving the government too much control would have disastrous consequences for blue-skies research. How could scientists explore new avenues, he asked, if they can only work on projects deemed to be important by politicians?

The researchers’ message seems to have been somewhat eclipsed by media coverage of the railway strike in France. But if Langevin and protest group Sauvons La Recherche are to be believed, Sarkozy won’t have his way without a struggle. SNCS calls for mass protest over CNRS plans – on Research Day: Europe.