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France Cuts to Research and Higher Education Budgets Elicit Concerns from French Scientists

France Cuts to Research and Higher Education Budgets Elicit Concerns from French Scientists

Paris, March 03, 2024, The Europe Today: Scientists in France are grappling with the repercussions of a government decision to slash €904 million from this year’s budget for research and higher education. The announcement, made last week, is part of a broader €10 billion savings package aimed at addressing the nation’s public deficit amidst a backdrop of diminishing economic growth since the adoption of the budget law in December 2023. However, scientists argue that the research sector is unfairly shouldering a disproportionate share of the fiscal burden.

This decision follows recent social unrest in France, including farmer protests against rising costs and regulatory burdens, where, according to Patrick Lemaire, President of the Alliance of French Academic Learned Societies and an embryologist at CNRS (the nation’s major multidisciplinary research center), the government has “completely disregarded” scientific expertise. Lemaire identifies these developments as a “very ominous pattern,” sending a “disastrous” message to scientists.

The planned cut for science amounts to a 2.8% reduction in this year’s budget for higher education and research. It includes a €383 million reduction in funding for national research organizations such as CNRS and the National Research Agency (ANR), which funds competitive research across all disciplines. The National Trade Union of Scientific Researchers (SNCS) has stated that this unprecedented drop will inevitably delay and endanger research programs. Furthermore, universities will lose €80 million for teaching and research, and financial support for students will be reduced by €125 million.

Despite the cuts, the research and higher education ministry reassures scientists that it will continue to fund routine operations at public institutions, maintain staff salaries for researchers, and honor existing commitments for student support. The ministry, the most affected of the five ministries with science-related portfolios, mentions that savings will primarily come from precautionary reserves, postponing multiyear projects, and an “adjustment” to ANR’s funding calls.

These cuts contradict a 2020 law that promised to increase public research spending by €25 billion over the next decade. They also come as a surprise following the creation of a new Presidential Science Council less than three months ago.

Concerns are widespread among scientists, with fears that the cuts will reduce opportunities for early-career scientists, especially in the context of a €2.2 billion reduction in funding for initiatives to protect the environment and curb climate change. France Universités, representing the nation’s universities, expressed “deep concern” about the impact of the cuts and emphasized that these new ‘savings’ should not signify a lasting disengagement from the State toward universities.

In response to these measures, the Unitary Trade Union Federation, including SNCS, has called for a strike on 19 March to protest the cuts and defend working conditions. Many are urging the government to consider increasing taxation of high earners and for-profits to fund public programs, rather than resorting to reductions in spending, which they view as an ideological decision with long-term implications.