Change everything to change nothing? Sylvie Retailleau, president of the University of Paris-Saclay, has been appointed Minister of Higher Education and Research, replacing by Frederique Vidal, former president of the University of Nice. Two ministers from civil society, therefore. “This raises the question of the political weight of universities and research in France”reacts the deputy LR Patrick Hetzel, connoisseur of the sector.
In fact, Frédérique Vidal did not particularly support her sector politically, except to accuse her to be plagued by “Islamo-leftism”. In formal order, Sylvie Retailleau is only 11th, while she manages the 6th state budget. Nevertheless, Higher Education retains a full-fledged ministry, while fears were high that the estate would be demoted. As for the appointment of Retailleau, it is hailed as “good news”by his colleagues François Germinet, President of Cergy Paris University and Gilles Roussel, President of Gustave-Eiffel University.
A veritable behemoth, the University of Paris-Saclay is the flagship of French higher education. It brings together renowned schools (AgroParisTech, CentraleSupélec, the Graduate School of Optics Institute and the Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay, where Sylvie Retailleau studied), Paris-Sud University (of which Sylvie Retailleau was President ) and is called to join the universities of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and Evry-Val-d’Essonne. Together they bring together around 50,000 students and represent 13% of French research.
This grouping policy had been decided to make French establishments more visible in international rankings, and particularly the famous ranking of the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy firm. Paris-Saclay University rose to 13th placein 2021, when Paris-Sud was 42nd. “It is the spirit of Shanghai that triumphscomments the communist senator Pierre Ouzoulias. The result is predictable: an acceleration of the reforms undertaken by Frédérique Vidal to create a two-speed university system. Same story with Anne Roger, co-secretary general of the Snesup-FSU, who rubbed shoulders with Sylvie Retailleau during discussions on the preparation of the controversial research programming law (LPR). “It’s a Vidal bisshe breathes. I do not think that with it the ministry will win its budgetary arbitrations, nor that we will have the employment policy that we want. The question of contract workers will arise even more.
The contractuals are all these non-statutory teacher-researchers that run universities in unworthy precarious conditions and with little hope of getting out. Sylvie Retailleau knows the subject well. The Collective of precarious workers from the University of Paris-Saclay had thus made a happening during a day organized on the campus as part of the French presidency of the European Union. Something to remind the minister that student anger is simmering in the universities, which is just waiting for a pretext to express itself, like the recent college occupations demonstrated this during the interval between the two presidential rounds. Same the Fagea rather moderate organization, challenges the new minister, asking her “to take concrete and lasting action for young people”.
“She is a doublespeak specialist. She has a very enveloping way of neutralizing criticism., judges the Saclay Mobilization Committee in struggle. Contrary to the opinions of these students, Sylvie Retailleau, a physicist by training, is described as “a woman of dialogue, very invested in the collective”, by Mathias Bernard, president of Clermont-Auvergne University. Praise continued by Guillaume Gellé, president of the University of Reims. “She is a woman in the field respected for her competence with an enormous capacity for work, and appreciated by all those who have worked with her”explains the vice-president of France Universities, the association of presidents of higher education establishments.
It remains to be seen how she will take up this function. “We expect her to change her costume and posture”comments France Loureiro, Deputy Secretary General of Sgen-CFDT. He intends to speak very quickly to the Minister of a programming law for higher education, the remuneration of actors and a recruitment plan. For the moment, Emmanuel Macron’s program mainly evokes the creation of positions in short and professionalizing sectors in two and three years.