Q. What were these demonstrations about?
A. About the reform of universities. The L.R.U., the Law on the Responsibilities and Freedom of Universities. That was in 2007. The first demonstrations were autumn 2007. And then in 2009 we had the reform of what we call the status of researchers, which means that they are going to be evaluated — there is going to be flexibility between their research responsibilities and their teaching. Because if you have a boss at the top of a university, the boss has to have a human resource — the right to manage. This was really a big, big issue.
Q. Why make such sweeping changes?
A. First there is a political choice: to give priority to teaching and innovation. But if we wanted to give this priority, then we had to reform the universities. Why? Because we have a very separated system. Nearly everything in France has been built outside the universities. Napoleon created the grandes écoles [a system of elite engineering and professional schools.] General de Gaulle continued that, so we have some of the best pupils trained outside the universities, and not trained to do research.
At the same time we have research institutes — like C.N.R.S. [National Center for Scientific Research], CERN [the European Organization for Nuclear Research] — that do research outside universities. And the problem is that the world model is a university. If you have a ranking, you rank universities.