Frédérique Vidal, Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation in The French Government explains her stance on the importance of investing in education, innovation and research
While populism rises throughout the world, governments are facing the emergency of tackling climate change and ensuring health, food and energy security. In such a time, France has a major role to play as a Nation committed to the development of knowledge and the fostering of innovative solutions. To succeed, I believe that we have to simultaneously invest massively in higher education and research, and bring together research, innovation and economic clusters. This is what the French Government is currently doing, with an ambitious national roadmap and a strong involvement in the Horizon 2020 European programme.
A long tradition of excellence in research
France has a long tradition of excellence in research and is eventually ranked 3rd for the number of Fields Medals it received and 4th for its number of Nobel Prizes. All French research organisations (CNRS, CEA, Inra, Inserm, Inria, etc.) are also in the very first places of world rankings in their own categories, and 18 French universities are among the 100 most innovative universities in Europe. To go even further, the French Government has taken strong measures to promote transfer and innovation and to ensure France’s place in the European research space.
Firstly, France’s budget for research has increased by 8% between 2017 and 2019. Research laboratories have seen their endowments rise while the National Research Agency (ANR) has been deeply modernised to become a more agile organisation, financing projects quicker and more efficiently. Concomitantly, €3.5 billion from the National Investment Plan (2018-2020) has been dedicated to excellence in research and €4.6 billion to innovation. On February 1st, 2019, the Prime Minister announced that France will put its research trajectory on an ambitious basis in a plurennial dedicated law starting in 2021.
Research Priority programmes for humanity
To address major challenges that humanity is facing, the Government already created Research Priority programmes provided with dedicated budgets. Their aim is to make all research labs work together to build solutions on issues such as climate change, pesticides, antimicrobial resistance or even artificial intelligence. For example, as part of the AI for Humanity strategy announced by President Macron on March 29, 2018, I launched a €1 billion artificial intelligence (AI) research programme coordinated by Inria, aimed to involve the best research labs from research organisations, universities and the private sector.
Similarly, the Make Our Planet Great Again programme is coordinated by CNRS and allowed France to welcome top-level researchers from all over the world, including from the most prestigious American universities, in French labs, to work on climate change related topics. We will soon kick off a joint French-German research effort against climate change in Paris with my German Colleague Anja Karliczeck. This is one example of the several ambitious bilateral strategies for research we share with Germany.
Fostering innovative solutions and Open Science
On the innovation front, we modified a set of rules in order to make interactions between research labs and the private sector much more fluid (e.g. allowing a public researcher to spend 50% of his or her time in a private company or to keep shares of a company he or she created) and launched an Innovation Council to foster breakthrough innovation. This Council will be the national counterpart of the European Innovation Council, which is now essentially oriented towards breakthrough innovation and it will act as the disruptive innovation agency that was lacking in Europe. Among its first decisions, the French Innovation Council launched a national plan to accelerate the creation and growth of deep tech start-ups.
I am also convinced that part of the success of this strategy relies on promoting open government measures. In the field of my ministry, I recently launched an ambitious plan for Open Science. This plan is a game-changer: it sets, among other things, the fact that research results produced with public funding have to be open.
The role of France in European programmes
This new set of tools has to be understood in the global European agenda, in which France plays a major role. Horizon 2020 and soon “Horizon Europe”, for which I expect an ambitious budget, is the largest research programmes in the world. This unprecedented investment shows that the European Union (EU) is firmly committed to boosting European research in order to become the world leader. And this is essential because Europe bears a unique vision for research and progress, based on ethics and respect. Thus, I wish all French research players get involved in European programmes and contribute to promoting these values.
We all know how difficult it will be to tackle the challenges lying ahead of us but I am confident that France and the EU will be major actors for progress, by investing massively in the production and diffusion of knowledge and building a desirable future for its citizens.
Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation
The French Government
Tel: + 33 (0)1 42 75 80 00