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Government claims victory despite tied vote on reform law

The French government has welcomed the reception given to its proposed university and research law following a vote by its higher education advisory panel—even though the vote was tied.

After several days of debate, on 25 February members of the National Council for Higher Education and Research voted 20 for and 20 against backing the law, with eight abstentions.

Nevertheless, the government has declared the vote a resounding success and described it as the strongest show of support ever given by the panel. A higher education and research ministry statement pointed out that the reform law introduced by the previous government received just 12 votes in favour and 19 against, with several members of the council leaving the vote in process.

According to the statement, more than 200 amendments were discussed during the council’s meeting.

Jean-Loup Salzmann, president of the Council of University Presidents (CPU), said in a statement that he had voted in favour of the bill but with reservations. In a speech to the council on 21 February, he noted in particular that changes need to be made to other pieces of legislation—not just this bill—to improve higher education. He said that he was disappointed that research and higher education minister Geneviève Fioraso does not appear to have exerted much influence on these other areas. These include finance legislation that currently prevents universities from taking full control of the payment of staff.

He also said that while regional powers have a legitimate place in technology transfer and the dissemination of scientific information, the CPU could “not accept the regionalisation of higher education”. His complaint may refer to parts of the bill that state that regions could be more involved in the running of groupings of universities.

The next step for the law will be an examination by the government’s council of ministers on either 20 or 27 March.