Decline of French research investigated by Le Monde
France’s influence in international research has been declining for years, receiving a declining share of gross domestic product (GDP), and with reductions in its production of scientific publications, salaries of researchers and the number of positions. , according to a vast survey on the state of French research published in The world.
The survey of the decline, and its reasons, was conducted for a special issue marking the 10th anniversary of the journal’s weekly “Science and Medicine” supplement.
While France ranked sixth for the number of scientific publications in 2009, in 2017 Canada, Spain, Australia and Italy had surpassed it. This meant that France risked breaking out of the international top 10, according to a report prepared for the 2020 Research Programming Law, or LPR.
This sparked protests from a scientific community that doubted the usefulness of structural reforms in 2005 that had coincided with the decline, writes David Larousserie for The world.
Behind the withering of French prestige in matters of publications hide “financial resources, salaries, fractures within the scientific community, between rich and poor laboratories, managers and second, tenured and precarious … signaling the end of the exception of the French model in the vision of the world, ”concluded Larousserie.
Among the conclusions of the The world survey were:
While France – with 1% of the world’s population and more than 2.5% of the production of scientific articles – is one of the best performing countries in research, according to the OST, the French Observatory of Sciences and technologies, it is in decline and its ranking has fallen.
Worse, even if it is still only in the top 10 for the number of publications, the OST only ranks 16th in a quality indicator taking into account the percentile of cited publications, behind Belgium , Switzerland and Denmark.
“Very average” resources
Since 2000, the European Union has set a target for public and private research spending equivalent to 3% of GDP, but France has only reached 2.2%, a figure that has fallen slightly and steadily since 2013. Germany spent more than 3%, and the OECD average was 2.38%. Regarding the public share of its expenditure, France records less than 0.8% of GDP, 10th in the European Union.
Deploring the situation of the financing of life sciences, the oncologist Hugues de Thé declared The world: “The Academy of Medicine has pointed out that only 17% of public finances go to health and biological sciences, compared to 30% to 50% in the UK, Germany and the US. The underfunding is acute.
Many researchers hoped that LPR would fill in the gaps. Under this plan, the public research budget would be 5 billion euros higher than that of 2020 by 2030, an increase of more than 30%, described by Frédérique Vidal, Minister of Education higher, Research and Innovation, as “an effort without precedent since the Second World War”.
But in the parliamentary debate, reported The world, the senators calculated that with inflation, this would represent only 1 billion euros in real terms.
According to an LPR working group, in France, the “indecent” and “unworthy” starting salary of researchers was about 63% of that of researchers in OECD countries. The world quoted de Thé who declared that foreign candidates competing for the grand prize of the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation “had three times more resources for their research projects than those working in France!”
The LPR attempted to fill the gaps with an increase in premiums, equivalent to about 2% per year and representing about 20% per year of the 500 million euros increase in the budget. But SNCS-FSU Secretary General Boris Gralak said The world it was insufficient and would only offset the cost of living. The ministry promised the increases would mean no researcher would earn less than twice the national minimum wage.
Insufficient or aging equipment
The world gave examples of how France lagged behind other countries. By 2015, it had pioneered electron cryomicroscopy, but now only had two machines while Germany had nearly 30 and Britain more than 20 – although three more were due to be purchased in 2022.
For atomic probe tomography, specifies Jean-Luc Autran, director of the Institut Matériaux Microelectronique Nanosciences de Provence, “For more than three years, we have not renewed this equipment, which is used by three quarters of the laboratory. In France, there are only three, and none of the new generation. In Germany there are 20.
If France is backing down from the world leadership in research, serious disparities are also hidden within the sector, between well-equipped laboratories and others, according to the report. The world investigation.
Funding comes mainly from two sources: on the one hand, competitive funding from calls for tenders for which researchers plead their projects to the ANR, the national research agency, or framework programs European or regional; and second, recurrent funding, allocated directly to research organizations and universities.
But said The world, the second source, for basic research, has been exhausted, while the first has been given priority. The LPR working group noted in 2019: “It is economically ridiculous to create laboratories or employ scientists without giving them the minimum means to function.
The LPR proposed a new system where around 300 young researchers would receive € 200,000 over three years, as well as an increase in ANR funding to increase the success rate of funding applications to 30% in 2027, reported The world.
But the LPR would worsen structural inequalities, said The world, because the ANR would represent more than a quarter of the 472 million euros of additional funding for 2022, while the hundred universities and research organizations would have a little less than this amount, 127 million euros, to share.
The “French exception” of tenure threatened
The civil servant status of French researchers, acquired when they are younger than in many other countries, allowed them to undertake long-term research, which was an undeniable advantage of the system, according to Hugues de Thé, Quoted by The world. But this exception, recognized internationally and attracting foreign researchers, was threatened by the reduction of these posts, said The world.
At the CNRS, the National Center for Scientific Research, the number of recruitments had fallen by 60% in 10 years, from 400 in 2010 to 242 last year; in 2019, 1,070 university positions were opened, compared to 2,216 a decade earlier. The average age for obtaining these positions, now 34, continues to increase.
Overall, however, the number of researchers was increasing, according to The world, but 30% were short-term contracts, often linked to projects resulting from tenders.
Studies have shown the effects of this precariousness on the quality of life and work, the exclusion of women and psychosocial risks.
The end of the laboratory French-style
Also disappearing is the French-style “laboratory” – a collective in which researchers collaborate, share facilities, exchange ideas, supported by technicians and engineers with diverse skills, said The world. In its place was the “Anglo-Saxon” system where a team leader was responsible for raising funds for all the facilities and human resources of a research project.
“We discuss less science among researchers from different projects with this system, and students receive less intellectual stimulation. And the new model did not kill the Mandarinate that was supposed to disappear, ”said Alice Lebreton, biologist at INRAE, the institute of agriculture, food and the environment, and columnist for The world.
The newspaper also quotes Jean-Luc Autran, who said: “The meaning of the collective is lost. I have seen French researchers who have received a grant from the European Research Council change laboratories and leave with their budget, while former colleagues had helped them strengthen their candidacy. Now we have to take care of the conduct of the celebrities.
This article is a summary of The worldthe conclusions of, which can be read in full in French here.