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France backs IT and life sciences

Nature volume 407, pages 435436 (28 September 2000) | Download Citation



France's spending on civil research and development will place a greater emphasis on information technology and the life sciences next year, science minister Roger-Gérard Schwarzenberg revealed last week.

Schwarzenberg also launched a plan to recruit young scientists which will be used to direct strategic goals towards these two fields and reduce the heavy burden of salaries on research agencies' budgets.

The FFr55.8 billion (US$7.5 billion) budget for 2001 is a 2.2% increase on this year. But overall, science came only seventh in additional spending — the ministry of environment, for example, got an 8% boost.

There will be 265 new full-time posts for researchers and technicians in public research agencies, compared with 150 in 1999 and just 18 last year. This is partly because half of France's current researchers will retire between 2004 and 2010.

Of the new posts, 116 will go to the National Institute for Research in Computing Science and Control (INRIA). Many of the 70 jobs at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) will go to a department of information technology, which is expected to be formally created alongside the seven existing CNRS departments this week.

INRIA's 12.7 % rise tops the budget handouts to the national agencies. The national biomedical agency INSERM got a 4.2% increase and CNRS got 0.9%.

Schwarzenberg said that 25% more public researchers would come into information technology over the next five years. Given that 74 of the new jobs will go to INSERM, and that many of the non-computing posts at the CNRS will go to the life sciences, the harvest for other disciplines has been meagre. Jacques Fossey, secretary-general of the main researchers' trade union, the National Union of Scientific Researchers (SNCS), is among those critical of this imbalance.

Berger: sees interdisciplinary research as key to the future of French science. Image: CNRS

But Geneviève Berger, the new director-general of the CNRS, says that she will not neglect physics and chemistry. Rather, in a bid to boost interdisciplinarity, she wants to see more researchers in these areas applying for jobs in life-science research.

Berger is also planning a bioinformatics programme to link the life sciences with the proposed information technology department. And she wants to introduce within six months a new 'matrix' model for research at the CNRS, with projects cutting across disciplinary boundaries.

Berger sees the wave of retirements as a golden opportunity to make the management of research more flexible. At present, over three-quarters of the CNRS budget goes on salaries, leaving little for equipment and supplies. She would like to see this cut to 60%.

Berger does not intend to challenge researchers' status as civil servants. But she wants fewer full-time researchers and more temporary posts, to allow more foreign researchers to work at the CNRS. A system of three-year postdoctoral fellowships, renewable once, is also under consideration.

Having studied the budget figures, the SNCS claims that, despite the government's emphasis on job creation, it intends to increase spending on research infrastructure by cutting the wage bill. Describing this as “scandalous”, the union is urging the National Assembly to amend the budget bill when it comes up for approval later in the autumn.

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