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François Hollande at the Collège de France

p. 16-21
Cet article est une traduction de :
Discours de François Hollande

Notes de la rédaction

Source: La lettre, no. 36, May 2013

Texte intégral

© Présidence de la République / C.Alix

1On 4 February 2013, the Collège de France had the honour of hosting French President François Hollande.

2Following the Administrateur’s opening address, the French President delivered a twenty-minute speech in the Marguerite de Navarre lecture-theatre. In a tribute to Professor Serge Haroche, 2012 Physics Nobel Prize Laureate, François Hollande reaffirmed his support for the Collège de France’s research missions. He also presented the Higher Education and Research Bill, and outlined its two objectives: first, student success, which requires that questions of orientation and specialization be re-valorized; and second, that disciplines, programmes, and institutions be entirely de-compartmentalized.

3Earlier in the day, François Hollande had visited the École normale supérieure’s Kastler Brossel laboratory in the rue d’Ulm, where he met Serge Haroche’s research team, including­ young PhD candidates associated to his programme. As of January 2014, this laboratory will become part of the Physics Institute, which is to be housed in the new renovated building at the Marcelin-Berthelot site, scheduled for inauguration in the spring of 2014. One of the priorities of the Physics Institute will be to welcome resident research teams. To this end, it plans on creating a project centre to host junior physics researchers in prime conditions. On the same day, 4 February 2013, the Collège de France and the CNRS, represented by Mr Alain Fuchs, signed an agreement in support of this project.

From left to right: François Weil (Recteur of the Académie de Paris), François Hollande, President of the French Republic, Antoine Georges (Condensed Matter Physics), Serge Haroche (Administrateur of the Collège de France, Quantum Physics) and John Scheid (Vice-Administrateur of the Collège de France, Religion, Institutions and Society in Ancient Rome) in front of the Physics Institute’s building.

Serge Haroche’s Speech

4Mr President,

5Your visit to the Collège de France today is symbolic. Our country’s oldest academic institution, created by Francis I, has survived throughout all the country’s regimes. For nearly five centuries now, it has remained under the protection of the head of state, who formerly appointed its Lecteurs royaux (Royal Lecturers) and who, to this day, continues to appoint by decree the professors elected by our Faculty. We value this direct link with the highest authority of the state, which has ensured our freedom and the perpetu­ation of our institution through the upheavals that have marked the history of higher education in our country.

6And, lest we forget, we are reminded of this link at least three Sundays a year, when we delibe­rate and vote under the gaze of Francis I, Henry IV and Louis XIV, whose portraits adorn the walls of our assembly hall. Our mission has not changed since the cre­ation of our institution: it is to teach research and knowledge in the making in every area of the exact sciences and the human­ities, even, and especially, when they do not belong to the fields that are traditio­nally taught at university. Thus, we are conscious of defending invaluable ideals that have been deeply entrenched in our country’s knowledge and culture. The Collège de France, a historical and singular institution that is attached to its traditions and intent on preserving its independence, and that is far from being locked away in an ivory tower, is nevertheless concerned with the organization of French academe and research.

7While the College of France does not deliver degrees as such, it cares about the situation of the students and researchers who freely attend its lectures. It feels responsible for the dissemin­ation of research and culture, the values of which can survive only if the conditions conducive to their development are met. This means that we are concerned about the changes that are currently taking place on the academic scene. The fact that the conclu­ding sessions of the Assises de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche were held in this very place bears witness to our involvement in the reflection accompanying this transfor­m­­­­ation process. The Collège de France’s partici­pation in the Paris Science et Lettres (PSL) federation also attests to its desire to take part in current developments in research and higher education, without curbing its independence in any way or for­egoing the special link with the state that I have just mentioned.

8Mr President, you have expressed the wish to combine your visit to the Collège de France with a visit to the École normale supérieure’s Kastler Brossel laboratory. I am grateful for this, as I also see this as a powerful sign of the strong ties that exist between these two institutions, in which I have spent my entire career. It is in this laboratory, on the other side of the Pantheon, that I have carried out my research for close to forty years. Along with my longstanding colleagues, whom you have met, we welcome brilliant and motivated students as well as visitors from around the world. In an atmosphere highly conducive to fundamental research, created in this exceptional place by my masters Alfred Kastler, Jean Brossel and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, the work I have carried out with this team has led me to the Collège de France and, ultimately, to receiving­ the distinction that is the very reason for your visit today.The adventure goes on.

9You have just seen the new building that will house the new Collège de France’s physics and chemistry laboratories, alongside its biology laboratories. The three Chairs of experimental physics, slated to move into this building, will remain affiliated to the École normale, the Université Paris VI, and to the CNRS. We have high hopes for this renaissance of physics in our midst, and for the creation of the project centre that will support and welcome young researchers, who will thus be able to begin their career in a particularly favourable environment. And while on the subject of our projects, I will add that the Collège de France does not confine projects of this nature to the exact sciences. Its ambition is also to bring together the libraries and t eams of diffe­rent Chairs and to organize a great Institute of Civilizations at the Cardinal Lemoine site, which we hope soon to start renovating extensively, thereby bringing­ to completion the Grands Travaux endeavour launched under François Mitterrand’s Presidency.

10Mr President, we know that we can count on your support to bring these projects to fruition. Your presence here today symbolizes this support. It underscores the special ties between the Collège de France and the head of state, as well as our country’s commitment to research and higher edu­cation, which you have constantly reiterated since coming into office. For this, my colleagues and I are very grateful, and we now have the honour and pleasure of listening to you.

François Hollande’s Speech

11Mrs Minister, Mr Administrateur,

12Ladies and Gentlemen Professors,

13I do not know who is most impressed, Serge Haroche or myself: he to receive me here at the Collège de France, of which my functions make me the protector; or me to be here in this lecture-theatre where so many illustrious figures have imparted learning and knowledge. There is, ­undoubtedly, no greater honour for a country than to see one of its citizens receive the Nobel Prize. Serge Haroche, you gave us the opportunity to feel this pride a few months ago. This distinction­ lauded your qualities as a researcher, the scope of your discoveries, and the prestige of your laboratory since, as you pointed out, Alfred Kastler and Mr Cohen-Tannoudji – who is here with us today – received this highest of distinctions before you. But this prize also honoured exceptional teaching. Indeed, you have worked in four major institutions. The École normale supérieure: we were there just a few minutes ago and you showed me your laboratory. I was surprised at how small and antiquated the premises were, and I imagine that there was a specific intention behind this tour! I then came across this unlikely, unbelie­vable, unreal machine of yours that has turned your research into so many discoveries. The second institution is the CNRS, and I would like to take this opport­un­ity to salute its leaders. Then, the Université Pierre et Marie Curie. As you know, on what is called the President of the Republic’s inauguration day, I paid tribute to Marie Curie to symbolize my presidency’s strong support of research. Finally, the Collège de France, where we stand today. The Collège de France, of which I am the protector, was created in 1530 by Francis I, to foster open and free teaching, unbound by restrictive ­principles. Nearly five centuries later, this Collège has remained loyal to that spirit. As I have said, it decides on the title of its Chairs freely, unaffected by the division between scientific disciplines, which puts it at the forefront of the very definition and creation of new disciplines.

14This place of excellence is exceptional in that it is open to everyone: every citizen can be proud to know that they too can become one of the Collège de France’s students. Strictly speaking, the Collège does not have students. Anyone who wishes to learn can simply walk in; everyone is welcome. Will they understand everything that is taught here? No one knows, since no one checks: there are no exams. But this is the most beautiful symbol that can ever be offered: that of science made available to all. The Nobel Prize awarded to you reminds us of this obvious fact, this essential condition: the prestige of a nation, the scope of its influence and its performance are indissolubly linked to our higher education and our research.

15Investing in knowledge, especially in times of scarce financial resources, means preparing the France of tomorrow. That is why, no matter how harsh the times, I have decided to ring-fence the higher education and research budget in 2013. I would like you to consider what this represents, not so much for decision-makers, but for our country. At a time when every ministry and administration is forced to make sacrifices, I made sure that this priority was respected. This will translate into a number of decisions, including an annual increase of 1,000 positions in higher education. One other ministry can boast the same type of action, as it shares the same vocation, and that is national education. Furthermore, research will be one of the first sectors to receive the investissements d’avenir (Investments for the Future) drawn from the “Grand Emprunt” or “Great Loan” launched by my predecessor, and I have asked for the accelerated implementation of the programmes defined within this framework, because we must move ahead at a stronger and faster pace.

16A number of changes are however expected in return for this financial support. Not because some kind of negotiation or demand are involved, but because we need to evolve. This is why I proposed a law on higher education and research. The bill, currently being drafted and in its final stage following the recent Assises de la recherche, has two objectives. The first is student success, and the key to this is avoiding premature specialization. We must help all our students build their own personal agenda by giving them a choice of orientation in their undergraduate studies. The same goes for bachelor’s degrees, since we want these studies to lead to real jobs. Better results in the first three years of higher education will lead to increased numbers of Master’s students. The idea is that every student who puts their trust in a university by enrolling in it should be able to achieve their goal after completing the curriculum. The bill’s second objective is to de-compartmentalize not only disciplines and curriculae, but also institutions. The French academic landscape is a reflection of France itself; it is abundant, fragmented and diverse. While this diversity contributes to the richness of our country, it also results in our institutions being too isolated at times, and in the maintenance of overly complex systems of inter-institutional collaboration. It seems to me that we cannot carry on like this. We cannot keep on adding structures to structures, strata to strata: here too, we must simplify. Hence we propose to group universities together into intellectual hubs that would be more widely known and respected, in order to attract funding in line with that of our global competition.

17One of our challenges with this bill will therefore be to facilitate the creation of such hubs, grouping together without merging – which is certainly not the intention – our grandes écoles and our universities. The various regions share this vision. It must garner even further support from our local governments, whom I commend for their commitment towards the university system. The bill will offer new legal tools for organizing this convergence while respecting diversity. Coherence will be crucial to the state itself, as it will contract with these institutions, centres, hubs or groups, as well as with each individual entity. The purpose of this de-compartmentalization is also to strengthen the ties between university and research. Serge Haroche is the very symbol of this connection. Research organizations will also take part in these academic groups and in their governing bodies. Creating such ties and building bridges will allow faculty, staff and students working on a project to move to another one; to move from one university, from one discipline, and from one curriculum to another.

18I would also like to stress that our country needs more engineers dedicated to research and innovation. Such projects can already be found in Paris, Saclay and Grenoble, and they must be encouraged to grow. Here, I wish to applaud the initiative taken by engineering schools to increase their percentage of post-graduate students. I encourage business schools to adopt the same approach. France lacks marketing, production management and business management PhDs. When it comes to tax planning and management, we have everything we need, but this cannot be our only expertise! I urge businesses to acknow­ledge the importance of researchers’ and academics’ work, and the value of the degrees that are awarded. It is inconceivable that, in this great country of ours, those with the highest degree in higher education – the PhDs – receive so little recognition on the job market. Doctoral studies are still perceived as a special­ization whose sole prospects are in academia. We forget that this is also formal professional training. It is in our companies’ interests to hire PhDs and, incidentally, let me point out that the research tax credit should be an obvious incentive. However, the state itself must set the example. We cannot dictate that companies hire more PhDs if the state does not do so itself. Our recruitment system for senior officials in the public service involves entrance exams that are ill-suited to researchers. I, for one, have gone through a number of recruitment sessions – I don’t mean in terms of political elections, but at university, to enter the public service. Yet I often came across graduates of the École normale supérieure, but never across PhDs. Here again, we need to facilitate access to careers in public office for PhD holders, as do our European neighbours.

19The idea behind this reform is to give our universities an edge in the intellectual competition that is unfolding on the global scene, as we all here know. It will be based on a specific asset that has long been the subject of endless discussions and false dichotomies, that is, on autonomy. I shall remind you that Edgar Faure had this principle adopted nearly 50 years ago. This is not where the risk of division lies. He had it adopted in the wake of events that had considerably shaken the ­country. Autonomy means bringing together decisions relating to national strategy, which must be steered by the state, and local agendas, defined by the institutions themselves. Autonomy means trust: the trust that is granted to presidents or heads of institutions, their economic, social and cultural partners, and especially academics, staff and even students. Autonomy means honouring diversity among situations and projects. This autonomy must combine efficiency and collegiality. The former, because institutions and their advisory boards must be able to make important decisions, and the latter, because higher education and research cannot advance without mobilizing professors, staff and students alike. Existing internal university electoral mechanisms will be amended accordingly. In certain conditions, prominent economic and social figures will also play a role in the universities’ decision-making process.

20I would like to conclude this speech, which is a tribute not only to Serge Haroche but also, more broadly, to the academic and research worlds. Globalization is all around us; it applies to everyone, everywhere. It is also a reality for universities. I am not talking about the controversial rankings that sometimes fail to reflect reality; we should not obsess over these. I am talking­ about the globalization of performance and of results. I am also talking about the globalization of research. We can see that emerging countries such as India and Brazil, for ex­ample, are now developing considerable means for their research systems. Ten years ago, China had only five million students. It now has 30 million, with 60 million foreseen in 2020, and also gives ­priority to research. We need to rise to this challenge. First by allowing French students to spend time studying abroad – as you did, Serge Haroche. I understand that you were a post-doctoral scholar at Stanford and that you taught at Harvard and Yale. We must also provide foreign students with the opport­un­ity to study in France. We have revoked a decree that limited foreign students’ access to employment, which in fact was hampering this mobility. I would also like a number of flaws in our hosting system to be remedied, as we should never lose an opportunity to host a promising foreign researcher or student. You introduced me to one of your researchers from Ukraine who chose to come to France. I do not wish to use this purposefully, but he told me about the red tape involved in getting hold of required documents, when in fact his time should be devoted to his research. In the same spirit, within the framework of teaching agreements with foreign universities or of European programmes, we must be able to offer courses in languages other than French. Not that I don’t want to defend French – we have even reintroduced a ministry of Francophone affairs – but we must also allow Chinese, Indian or American students who do not necessarily speak our language well, to enrol in our universities, become familiar with our culture, learn our language better, and eventually spread it abroad. By the same token, offering programmes in foreign languages in France will also broaden the scope of our own students’ opportunities, both in our universities and in our grandes écoles.

21Finally, I would like to stress a major point: the appeal of French research. We must help young French researchers to pursue their careers in France by giving them an easier start and providing them with prospects of funding for their work and for international exchanges, thus allowing them to believe that research in France will allow them to succeed. For research does not only concern researchers; it is not simply the domain of university education or a ministry’s responsi­bility: research is the lever of France’s recovery. This is our only wager for success, and we have a chance to win it through effort mustered together. Fundamental research, in particular, is not just a source of pride for our country when one of our own researchers receives a Nobel Prize. It is also a key to our future. Fundamental research requires patience, time and the desire to explore without being sure of the outcome, without knowing what “applications” will be served. This research also implies consistency, as you have attested to here. True dis­coveries reward years, decades, sometimes a lifetime or even several lifetimes of effort. The greatest discoveries were made through these processes, these trials and errors. Progress is a journey forward, which also implies passing down knowledge from generation to generation. Your laboratory, Serge Haroche, is a prime example of this. Researchers share their knowledge and methods with one another. Research is an endless story, both of legacy and overcoming, of continuity and transgression, for there must be breaking points. We must also be able to take stock of what has previously been done. Nothing is ever complete. We must be able to pass the baton, train our youth and, here too, you have shown the way. That is why higher education and research cannot be separated. Thanks to them, our country moves forward, our economy improves, diseases are fought more effectively, our environment is better protected, and the societies that make up our world can be analyzed and understood more fully. This is why your own alliance is remar­kable, since your wife is a researcher in sociology.

22I would like to end on this last note. Science must remain France’s vocation. We must remain a great scientific nation, which means leading many more young people than we now do towards scientific fields of study and, within these fields, attracting even more students towards scientific research. This is not a matter of believing in science; science is not a religion. Science is the stuff of advances, observations and experiments, which are irrefutable.

23With this fine notion of science in mind, with the noble idea of progress and of remarkable knowledge imparted to others, the great values I have evoked honour the distinction bestowed upon Serge Haroche. Thank you.

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Table des illustrations

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Légende From left to right: François Weil (Recteur of the Académie de Paris), François Hollande, President of the French Republic, Antoine Georges (Condensed Matter Physics), Serge Haroche (Administrateur of the Collège de France, Quantum Physics) and John Scheid (Vice-Administrateur of the Collège de France, Religion, Institutions and Society in Ancient Rome) in front of the Physics Institute’s building.
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« François Hollande at the Collège de France », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 8 | mars 2014, mis en ligne le 11 août 2015, consulté le 29 mai 2017. URL : http://lettre-cdf.revues.org/2001

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