PARIS—French universities and their scientists were holding their breath. Three weeks ago, a panel chaired by two former prime ministers recommended that research and higher education become the main beneficiaries of a €35 billion bond plan set to become the new centerpiece of France's economic policy. The question was: Would President Nicolas Sarkozy follow their advice?
The answer is that he will. Speaking at a roundtable about the plan's priorities yesterday (video), Sarkozy confirmed that, although details about size and scope of the final plan won't be unveiled until Monday, he plans to follow the group's main recommendations. "We're going to invest massively," he promised researchers, university administrators, and business people gathered at Alsace BioValley, an innovation hub of the type the government is encouraging. "You won't be disappointed."
Sarkozy made clear that the funds will not be distributed evenly but instead will support the government's policy of creating bigger, more autonomous universities that focus on excellence, have modernized governance, and are highly productive. "We want the best universities in the world," he said. "How many universities do we have? 83? We're not going to divide the money by 83."
The roundtable had a highly scripted feel, but as usual, Sarkozy improvised his own, somewhat rambling contribution—and he wouldn't be Sarkozy if he didn't manage to fling an insult at the research community as well. Putting sloths on notice that they would not benefit from the bond plan, he said: "There's something everybody has to understand well. There are scientists who search and who find. There are others who search but don't find—those we have to help. And then there are those who don't search at all." In January, Sarkozy also infuriated scientists by suggesting they were underachievers.