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Higher education and research bill sparks opposition

Research and education groups in France are criticising a draft bill on higher education and research, which they say fails to meet the needs of students, teachers, researchers and other higher education staff.

The bill has been under discussion since 18 February by the French national council on higher education and research, which is expected to deliver its opinion on 25 February.

The legislation aims to address problems with the research and education system and with reforms introduced by previous governments, particularly the law on the freedom and responsibility of universities and the pact for research. The latter came into force in 2006, establishing the controversial research and higher education evaluation agency, AERES.

However, campaign groups Sauvons la Recherche (Let’s Save Research) and Sauvons l’Université (Let’s Save the University, SLU), along with other research and education groups, have rejected the bill. They insist that it does not go far enough to improve the “precarious” employment situation facing researchers and teachers or simplify France’s complex institutional and funding structures.

They also say that the bill does not mention any intention of increasing funding for research and education, despite putting an increased emphasis on universities’ commercialisation of research. And they say AERES, which Fioraso had promised to shut down, has simply been renamed.

The groups called on staff and students involved in higher education and research to attend a general assembly on 18 February at Denis Diderot University in Paris. SLU reported that around 400 people took part in the meeting and reached “unanimous agreement” on rejecting the proposed legislation. They also decided to hold a protest on 19 February in front of the ministry, which SLU says drew around 150 people.

The legislation, dubbed “la loi Fioraso” after France’s minister of higher education and research, Geneviève Fioraso, is the result of a consultation on higher education and research, the Assises, carried out by the ministry last year.

The six-month consultation took views from individuals and groups on how university and research policies could be reformed. About 1,300 written contributions were received. A synthesis of the results from the consultation was given to French president François Hollande on 17 December.

Fioraso is due to present the draft law to France’s Council of Ministers in March.