Petition in favour of an alternative reform of the French state higher education and research systems
le 14 décembre 2007
This is the english version of the petition : Pétition : Appel pour une autre réforme du service public d’enseignement supérieur et de recherche
What makes higher education and knowledge so valuable is that they “define what has over centuries made us human, not that they can enhance our global competitiveness," said new President of Harvard University Drew Gilpin Faust in her inaugural address last October. Because for the last twenty years French universities have seen a hundred percent increase in the number of their students without the corresponding financial resources this increase would have required, they are now facing enormous difficulties in the transmission and production of knowledge which such a vision of their role implies. The scientific community has already offered many propositions in order to improve the situation, but they have been systematically ignored by the government who has used this situation as an argument to brutally and totally overhaul our entire higher education and research system. The aim of this transformation, which was never based on any real consultation, notably of the researcher-teachers, is to enable universities to be run like businesses, to ensure that higher education’s main objective is short-term insertion in professional life and that research becomes mainly both applied and carried out over a short time scale. The most pressing concern should have been to make significant investments in the universities, including in human resources. But the government thought it more pressing to implement a new law (“LRU” :on the liberties and duties of universities) and in so doing to create a framework (the autonomy of universities) which would allow it to speed up the withdrawal of state funding, while at the same time disguising their intentions behind rhetoric spin. This autonomy will lead to largely increased powers being granted to University chairmen, who will significantly control the staff recruitment process, thus totally ignoring the international norm, which recommends that staff be recruited by their peers. The academic autonomy of the universities will be a mere facade in a centralised, interventionist structure entirely under the control of the ANR (National Research Agency) which will confine research to low-risk, short-term projects whose terms will be defined by the government, with a growing number of insecure jobs. This plan to pass over the control of the academic world to politicians is completed with the AERES, an assessment agency entirely made up of government-appointed personalities. This phenomenon of the concentration of power without checks and balances will be made worse by the planned scrapping of EPSTs as research organisations with autonomous academic policies, in particular the CNRS, the main centre for unfinalised, long-term research which favours cross-discipline research and encourages risk taking. UMRs (Mixed Research Units) are the place where the national and international vision of the research organisations and the local dimension which comes under the authority of the university can come together. This link enables research to be organised in each field of speciality and in the international context. The Aubert commission in even now planning to effectively scrap this double guardianship, and is also on the verge of dismantling a system which has proved its worth.
Faced with these measures which we find both ill-conceived and dangerous, we call for researchers and university lecturers to be guaranteed real academic and pedagogical independence from political interference — which in no way implies a lack of interest in the demands of society. Contrary to what the reference to “university independence” seeks to suggest, such independence is in reality prevented.
We call for a strengthening of the partnership between universities and research organisations, by maintaining the principle of a double authority (local and national) over the mixed research units.
We demand a completely adjusted redistribution of the financing for higher education and research planned for in the 2008 budget. Funds allotted to the ANR (National Research Agency) and to Crédit Impot Recherche should be reduced in order to increase the credits allotted to laboratories via universities and research bodies.
We call for universities to be given similar per capita funding to that of the Preparatory Classes (classes préparatoires), the BTS and the écoles professionelles. Such public support is a prerequisite if our aim is the democratisation of education, and if we wish to prevent private funding from handing control of higher education and research over to the private sector.
We call for a long-term job creation plan (for researchers, lecturers, engineers, technicians, administration staff) in order to strengthen the undergraduate teaching structure, without requiring overtime teaching : it is crucial to increase the amount of time that researcher-teachers can devote to research and not to reduce it ! It would only take half of the increase earmarked for the Credit Impôt Recherche to implement this plan.
We demand that the principles defended here to be taken into account and translated into reality through a dramatic change in the policy currently operated. We call for any prospective change in our system to be clearly spelled out, and for any further decision affecting its future to be preceded by a full consultation involving those who are fully representative of the personnel. Henceforth, we will apply ourselves to the task of animating the debate concerning these issues alongside our colleagues and the general public. We will soon assess how far our demands have been taken into account, particularly by the Aubert commission and through the budgets allotted to universities and research organisations. If this assessment does not identify the necessary guarantees to have been put in place and if it finds the future of research organisations still to be under threat, we will use other means of action to stop this evolution.
Traduit par Andy Hill, Simon Burgler and Anne Besnault-Levita (MCF Anglais, Rouen University)