Francia: ¿reformas de ser elegido Macron?
Marzo 2, 2022

Captura de pantalla 2016-06-01 a las 16.49.46French universities eye ‘disruptive project’ if Macron re-elected

Current administration has pushed through important reforms, but reorganising a complex sector around universities will be a tougher sell

February 24, 2022

Universities are confident a re-elected president Emmanuel Macron would be well placed to drive the reform of French higher education, but there are doubts whether institutions have done enough to inspire a revolution.

France’s two-round presidential election is set for 10 and 24 April and polls over the past six months have shown the incumbent Mr Macron sitting comfortably ahead of his rivals, despite him not yet announcing his candidacy.

Although there are strong odds on continuity, the French rectors’ conference, France Universities, is gunning for a transformation.

It wants higher education to get an extra €1 billion (£840 million) every year for the next five years; more autonomy for universities, such as control over the recruitment and career management of staff; and more say over their research and innovation agendas.

“If Macron is elected, it would be the second and last mandate, so he can try to do more disruptive proposals and changes,” Manuel Tunon de Lara, president of France Universities and former president of the University of Bordeaux, told Times Higher Education.

Professor Tunon de Lara said universities were vital to the more efficient and innovative economy that Mr Macron is pitching to the electorate, and that they can deliver if France’s complex higher education and research systems are reorganised to put them at the centre.

As things stand, the research landscape is dominated by national research organisations, such as the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm), while the prestigious grandes écoles tend to come out top for teaching.

As president, Mr Macron has realised major reforms. Christine Musselin, a CNRS research professor at the Sciences Po Centre for the Sociology of Organisations who specialises in higher education policy, said he had done so despite opposition.

She cited changes to admissions, governance and research careers as examples of important changes. The controversial 2018 Parcoursup reforms sought to lower dropout rates by letting universities steer students to more suitable courses.

“It gives for the first time some leeway to universities in order to say: ‘Yes, I take this person, I don’t take this one,’” said Professor Musselin, adding that the ability to “orient” candidates was still “contested by many people”.

“If you look at the programmes of many presidential candidates, they say they will suppress the Parcoursup,” she said, citing the left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the centre-left mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, as examples.

Reforms to governance have given universities more choice in how they select their leaders, although institutions must still turn to the ministry for approval of their selection processes.

And, in terms of careers, Mr Macron’s administration has brought universities closer to their rival institutions. “They introduced tenure tracks in the French system. We already had some tenure tracks in some institutions in France, but mostly grandes écoles or grands établissements, and now you can do it at the university, too,” said Professor Musselin.

Professor Tunon de Lara said giving universities more autonomy over staffing and research agendas would help fulfil Mr Macron’s economic campaign promises and fix a “very tricky, very complicated” model in which laboratory heads must march to the tune of multiple national research organisations.

In addition to complexity, the current system also disadvantages universities, he said, as national organisations both bid for and distribute public funds. “Researchers of NIH can’t apply for NIH funding,” said Professor Tunon de Lara, referring to the US National Institutes of Health, which funds both internal and external research.

“We feel confident that he may change his policy and have a disruptive project for academics and universities,” Professor Tunon de Lara said.

But Professor Musselin said universities would have to earn more radical transformations – for example, by becoming more attractive to students.

Applicants’ perception of universities as sink-or-swim environments offering substandard teaching was a “very, very big issue” and driving them towards France’s new smaller private teaching institutions.

“It’s probably the only country I know where universities are not the most prestigious place to study,” she said.

The centre-right presidential candidate, former minister of higher education and research Valérie Pécresse, won some hearts by overseeing a 2007 law that granted universities more autonomy. But Professor Tunon de Lara said a split vote between her and her more right-wing challengers meant her chances were slim.

He was upbeat about the “multidisciplinary, world-class universities” created after the 2007 law, but acknowledged many still had a way to go. “Of course, they have not all the same speed in having this transformation, but the transformation was initiated,” he said.

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