French boffins vote to quitadministrative duties

9th March 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 9 (AFP) - The heads of hundreds of French laboratories and research centres voted Tuesday to resign from their administrative functions in protest at a funding crisis which they say is forcing many young scientists to leave the country.

PARIS, March 9 (AFP) - The heads of hundreds of French laboratories and research centres voted Tuesday to resign from their administrative functions in protest at a funding crisis which they say is forcing many young scientists to leave the country.

In a show of hands at the city hall in Paris, around 800 scientists chose to carry through their threat to step down, ignoring government promises of mediation and new money.

The mass resignation was largely symbolic as the men and women will continue to carry out their scientific duties and receive full pay. However they warned that the work of many laboratories will suffer if day-to-day bureaucratic tasks are no longer being carried out.

The vote was the culmination of a protest movement that sprang up in January around a petition drawn up by the group "Save Research." It has now been signed by more than 60,000 of France's 105,000 public sector researchers, including some 5,000 laboratory directors.

The group says the government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has allowed research to slip as a national priority, and that poor pay and uncertain job prospects are creating a growing brain drain to the United States, Canada and Japan.

Raffarin and his science minister, former astronaut Claudie Haignere, have taken steps to defuse the anger, unblocking credits, setting up a national commission to study the future of French research, and last Friday offering a new budget line of
EUR 3 billion (USD 3.7 billion) by 2007.

In an interview with the left-wing newspaper Liberation on Tuesday, Raffarin said that investment in research was up 30 percent in the last five years and that the number of state-paid scentists was also at an all-time high.

"We are not engaged in some kind of petty bartering, but the construction of our country's future," he said.

In 2000 some 3,000 science graduates left for the United States alone, according to official figures. Every year France creates some 11,000 new potential researchers, but only between 30 and 40 percent can be absorbed in the public sector.

However critics argue that much of the problem lies with an archaic scientific organisation, with poor links to private industry, bureaucratic rigidity and a civil servant status for all staff, which means they have jobs for life.

The urgency of reform was underlined in a highly critical official report into the management of the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) - with 11,000 researchers the country's largest scientific establishment.

"The inertia of CNRS stands in stark contrast with the fast-moving world of research," the report said, describing it as an "organisation possessed of considerable means but minimal capacity to control how they are spent."

The report noted that two-thirds of the CNRS's EUR 2.5 billion budget goes on staff salaries, and criticised a system of co-management with trade unions that lacks a proper method of self-evaluation. As a result, poor or outdated research projects were allowed to continue indefinitely, it said.

© AFP

                                                              Subject: France news

 

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