Archive for French politics

rions jaune….

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , on January 12, 2019 by xi'an

y a plus de mouchoirs au bureau des pleurs

Posted in pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2019 by xi'an

Once the French government started giving up to some requests of the unstructured “gilets jaunes” protesters, it was like a flood or flush gate had opened and every category was soon asking for a rise (in benefits) and a decrease (in taxes) or the abolition of a recent measure (like the new procedure for entering university after high school). As an illustration, I read a rather bemusing tribune in Le Monde from a collective of PhD students against asking non-EU students (including PhD students) to pay fees to study in French universities. This may sound a bit of a surrealistic debate from abroad, but the most curious point in the tribune [besides the seemingly paradoxical title of students against Bienvenue En France!] is to argue that asking these students to pay the intended amount would bring their net stipends below the legal minimum wage, considering that they are regular workers… (Which is not completely untrue when remembering that in France the stipends are taxed for income tax and retirement benefits and unemployment benefits, meaning that a new PhD graduate with no position can apply for these benefits.) It seems to me that the solution adopted in most countries, namely that the registration fees are incorporated within the PhD grants, could apply here as well… The other argument that raising these fees from essentially zero to 3000 euros is going to stop bright foreign students to do their PhD in France is not particularly strong when considering that the proportion of foreign students among PhD students here is slightly inferior to the proportion in the UK and the US, where the fees are anything but negligible, especially for foreign students.

polluters 3 [taxes] – government 0 [result] – climate minus 1 [or rather +2⁰]

Posted in pictures with tags , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2018 by xi'an

reactionaries behind wheels

Posted in pictures, Running with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2018 by xi'an

France was hit by hundreds of blockades yesterday, sometimes with dramatic consequences, as a reaction to the planned ecological tax on gas announced by the French government. As in every occasion French drivers are impacted by new laws or taxes, from reducing the legal speed limit to installing new radars, to tolls for trucks, they react like a Swiss watch, blocking streets and highways, often with success in the end. As in the previous “bonnets rouges” movement (making me wonder why these actions are always connected with clothes!). While being highly privileged to be able to bike to work (or to use the local trains, when they run) and to shop locally, I am struck by the doubly myopic of the protesters, myopy of not seeing the larger picture of the urgent need to cut the addiction to cars  with obvious negative consequences in the short term and myopy of seeing these protests as “spontaneous” and “politically neutral” despite the immediate recuperation by the fringe political parties. And thus hope the French government will hold on that measure (despite its poor record so far in terms of ecological policy).

[ex?] Paris-Saclay univerXity

Posted in Kids, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2017 by xi'an

In the plane to Warwick last Tuesday, I read a fairly long and pessimistic article in Le Monde about the future of the Paris-Saclay university. This debate presumably makes no sense outside French circles, for it relates to the century-old opposition between universities and grandes écoles, these selective engineering and business schools that operate independently from the university structure. In the sense that the selection and the schooling of their students is completely separated, meaning these students may never attend a university program if they choose to do so. But not so independently in terms of hiring part-time professors from universities and sharing resources for their Master programs. And depending on the same agencies (like CNRS) for funding their research program.

Anyway, the core message of this article was that the influence of former students from Polytechnique [aka X] in the high administration is such that they can prevent the integration of the different engineer schools on the Saclay plateau into the intended superstructure of the Paris-Saclay university. And turn this somewhat megalomanic Paris-Saclay project initiated by Nicolas Sarkozy into a mere geographical superposition of separate institutions, with very unequal State funding, perpetuating the two speed regime for public higher education… And a ever more confusing international image that will not help an inch moving up the Shanghai ranking (a major reason for Sarkozy pushing this project). Very French indeed!

weapons of math destruction [fan]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2017 by xi'an

As a [new] member of Parliement, Cédric Villani is now in charge of a committee on artificial intelligence, which goal is to assess the positive and negative sides of AI. And refers in Le Monde interview below to Weapons of Maths Destruction as impacting his views on the topic! Let us hope Superintelligence is no next on his reading list…

the French MIT? not so fast…

Posted in Kids, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , on February 20, 2017 by xi'an

Gare de Sceaux, May 25, 2012A news report last weekend on Nature webpage about the new science super-campus south of Paris connected with my impressions of the whole endeavour: the annual report from the Court of Auditors estimated that the 5 billion euros invested in this construct were not exactly a clever use of public [French taxpayer] money! This notion to bring a large number of [State] engineer and scientific schools from downtown Paris to the plateau of Saclay, about 25km south-west of Paris, around École Polytechnique, had some appeal, since these were and are prestigious institutions, most with highly selective entry exams, and with similar training programs, now that they have almost completely lost the specialisation that justified their parallel existences! And since a genuine university, Paris 11 Orsay, stood nearby at the bottom of the plateau. Plus, a host of startups and research branches of companies. Hence the concept of a French MIT.

However, as so often the case in Jacobin France, the move has been decided and supported by the State “top-down” rather than by the original institutions themselves. Including a big push by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010. While the campus can be reached by public transportation like RER, the appeal of living and working on the campus is obviously less appealing to both students and staff than in a listed building in the centre of Paris. Especially when lodging and living infrastructures are yet to be completed. But the main issue is that the fragmentation of those schools, labs and institutes, in terms of leadership, recruiting, research, and leadership, has not been solved by the move, each entity remaining strongly attached to its identity, degree, networks, &tc., and definitely unwilling to merge into a super-university with a more efficient organisation of teaching and research. Which means the overall structure as such is close to invisible at the international level. This is the point raised by the State auditors. And perceived by the State which threatens to cut funding at this late stage!

This is not the only example within French higher educations institutions since most have been forced to merged into incomprehensible super-units under the same financial threat. Like Paris-Dauphine being now part of the PSL (Paris Sciences et Lettres) heterogeneous conglomerate. (I suspect one of the primary reasons for this push by central authorities was to create larger entities towards moving up in the international university rankings, which is absurd for many reasons, from the limited worth of such rankings, to the lag between the creation of a new entity and the appearance on an international university ranking, to the difficulty in ranking researchers from such institutions: in Paris-Dauphine, the address to put on papers is more than a line long, with half a dozen acronyms!)