PARIS—Concern over France's ballooning public deficits seemed momentarily forgotten at a meeting here yesterday where nine clusters of universities and schools presented a series of lavish projects, some already in progress, to renovate and expand their rundown facilities. The construction boom is part of Opération Campus, a multi-billion-euro initiative aimed at helping a select group of schools and universities across France compete internationally and improve France's dismal performance in university rankings.
So far, the government has earmarked €5 billion for the plan, a campaign promise by President Nicholas Sarkozy during the 2007 election; €3.7 billion came from the sale of shares in Electricité de France, and the rest from the Investments for the Future Program, also known as the Big National Loan. It will add another €3 billion under agreements with regional authorities, while more funding comes from local governments, the National Research Agency, and public-private partnerships.
Yesterday, the steering committee for the entire operation held its first meeting, where nine of the 12 selected clusters—in Aix-en-Provence, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lille, Lorraine, Lyon, Montpellier, Strasbourg, and Toulouse—presented an overview of how they're using the windfall. So far, work has begun on 17 projects, with 18 more to follow soon; they range from new or extended labs to student housing, landscaping, and sports facilities.
Many are eye-catching. Montpellier Sud de France University will build a brand-new, curved building for its faculty of medicine, desiged by French architect Jean-Michel Ferry. Bordeaux University is having its Cour Leyteire garden relandscaped by Debarre Duplantiers—a firm that won praise for transforming Bordeaux's dilapidated waterfront—while Toulouse University will have an elegant new mechanics research lab designed by architecture firm Séquences. Work at the remaining three clusters, which were chosen only in April and are all in the Paris region, will start later.