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Hollande pledges to avoid cuts to France’s science funding

Posted on behalf of Barbara Casassus.

PARIS – French President François Hollande today promised to spare the research and higher-education budget from savings of €50 billion (US$67 billion) that his government has pledged to find over the next three years to reign in its massive public deficit.

The government will find other ways to cut the deficit, avoid tax increases and ensure business can increase investment and create jobs, he said during a visit to the University of Strasbourg.

In a speech devoted entirely to research and higher education, Hollande also said he would maintain the controversial research tax credit (CIR) because companies appreciate it and it helps attracts foreign investment.

Reacting to the speech, Dominique Guellec, head of country studies at the Science, Technology and Industry division of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said the CIR is a good measure, but has become far too costly.

“It has failed to boost private-sector R&D spending as intended,” Guellec told Nature. “Its cost to the country is rising from €1.5 billion in 2008 to a projected €7 billion next year. But at the same time, companies have sharply reduced R&D outlays from their own resources.”

On the cash front, Hollande also pledged €2 billion ($2.71 billion) out of the €12 billion for the second Investments for the Future programme announced in July to the so-called initiatives of excellence, which are aimed to create world-class research and higher-education clusters. Eight, including Strasbourg, were created in the first round in 2011 when conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy was still in office.

Hollande added that another €1 billion would be earmarked to help regional universities boost their cooperative research and €100 million over five years would go to systems biology.

During a round table with students, Hollande floated the idea of creating a European campus in Strasbourg and said that he would raise the issue at the next Franco-German council of ministers meeting in Paris on 19 February, according to press reports.

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