A report recommends reconsidering the position of the National Center for Scientific Research in French research  TV5MONDE

A report recommends reconsidering the position of the National Center for Scientific Research in French research TV5MONDE

A report on Monday recommended reviewing the status of the National Center for Scientific Research in its relationship with universities, while enhancing its financial viability to better retain the best researchers.

The report, commissioned by Hcéres (Higher Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education), is the result of an evaluation committee composed of sixteen experts from ten nationalities.

He describes the public institution, which was established in 1939, as “a major, world-class research institution.” It readily recognizes its role as a “leader in Europe” through its reputation, size (equivalent to 31,000 employees), and scope of work through ten scientific institutes covering all areas of science (mathematics, physics, social sciences, etc.). .).

However, the committee chaired by Martin Vitterli, head of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, recommends a review of its management.

He believes that his board “does not really play a strategic role,” as many decisions were “clearly defined in advance” and taken without transparency.

The committee recommends the establishment of an “independent external advisory council” for scientific guidance, which includes “a high percentage of foreign members.”

At a press conference, Vetterli justified the direct tone of the report by the need to “not get around things.” With the desire to “help CNRS be better”.

The head of the National Center for Scientific Research, Antoine Petit, also expressed his satisfaction with the “general tone of the report,” which “should be able to help the National Center for Scientific Research develop.”

This is the first time, since its establishment, that the organization has undergone an international evaluation.

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“Difficult to understand”

The National Center for Scientific Research consists of a thousand research units, which are almost always shared – within mixed research units (UMR) – with universities, major schools and other institutions.

The report notes that this UMR mechanism, a “unique situation” in the world, “does not promote resilience,” despite the emergence of “research-intensive” universities. Which calls for the latter to leave “leadership in specific topics.”

The report also advocates for greater independence for extraordinary reporting, by strengthening the role of managers in their unit’s research, and especially in resource allocation. According to the report, the current process of allocating these resources, through the institutes of the National Center for Scientific Research, is “extremely difficult to understand.”

There are many difficulties that affect the stated goal of “attracting, supporting and retaining the best talent”, particularly young researchers.

The report notes “a continued deterioration in wage levels.” More generally, there is a “lack of financial viability” of the National Council for Scientific Research’s budget.

This budget, amounting to $3.7 billion in 2021, is supplemented by three-quarters of it through subsidies.

If the report deems it insufficient, it should be a “main topic” of the National Center for Scientific Research’s discussions with its supervisory body, the Ministry of Research and Higher Education. The latter in particular should provide greater visibility to the National Center for Scientific Research on the expected development of its grant.

‘bureaucratic burden’

The committee also addressed the issue of human resources, touching on “strategic issues” related to what constitutes the “basic wealth” of the National Center for Scientific Research.

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This is the topic that is considered, according to Antoine Petit, the “main point” of the report, which does not depend solely on the issue of wages.

The report notes the absence of “an organized plan for talent development and career support,” and even mandatory training in human resources-related skills.

In this field, it is recommended to develop a culture of mentorship for young researchers. He mentions in passing “the challenge of dealing with low-performing employees.”

Another challenge is to encourage more CNRS researchers working in UMRs to contribute to teaching at the institutions that host them.

The report also reflects the real “bureaucratic burden”, with “increasingly complex, and sometimes even ridiculous” administrative procedures, which pose many obstacles to research activity.

Administrative tasks can take up up to 50% of young researchers’ time, according to several testimonials collected by the evaluation committee. According to Martin Vitterli, this requires a “real commando operation” to address an “urgent” problem.

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