who is the new minister of higher education?

MESRI. Sylvie Retailleau will be the new Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation. She succeeds Frédéric Vidal. Physicist and president of Paris-Saclay, what is her profile?

[Mis à jour le 20 mai 2022 à 17h14] The rescheduling has just been made official by the Elysée at 4.30 pm. She is the president of the University of Paris-Saclay Sylvie Retailleau, who represents the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MESRI). This new appointee will have authority over the Directorate-General for Higher Education and Vocational Integration, the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, the General Inspectorate of Libraries and the Cabinet, posing a major challenge to an Enarque completely new to politics.

If in some governments, and in particular that of François Hollande, this portfolio was entrusted to a State Secretary to the Minister of National Education, the position has gradually emerged since the 1970s.The ministry can be a valuable help to the Minister of National Education who already has many responsibilities, such as the outgoing Jean-Michel Blanquer, and the crises that have marked his mandate. The proposals sent to presidential candidates and published by university presidents in January clearly illustrate this desire to maintain a full-fledged ministry. Currently the sixth largest in terms of budget, as evidenced by the special page of the Ministry of Economy, the MESRI and its 25 billion euros even ranks on “Solidarités et santé” at 15.9 billion, or even before Justice at 12 .8 billion. What will Sylvie Retailleau’s mission be?

While university fury has erupted in the intervening period (particularly with blockades and occupations of buildings), the Higher Education dossier is perhaps not the most attractive. And yet it will have been necessary to find a successor for Frédéric Vidal. That is Sylvie Retailleau that lands on the folder. Graduated from ENA, she is a physicist, professor of physics, but since 2001 also a university professor. As a researcher at the CNRS, she focuses her activities on the theoretical study of the physics of semiconductor components for advanced electronics. She headed the University of Paris-Sud from 2016 to 2019, before assuming her current position of presidency of the University of Paris-Saclay. This physicist who comes straight from academia will do her job for her. Between the research programming law passed by the previous government and the ten-year spread that was criticized for the total lack of attention to inflation and the refinancing through a multi-year programming law at the request of the universities, the program will be loaded . In fact, the main problem could be the psychological distress and insecurity of students, exacerbated by the health crisis.

For Frédérique Vidal, the presidential experience ends there. And rightly so, she had very little visibility during this term, as evidenced by her total absence from opinion barometers and media chronicles. This is partly explained by the presence of Jean-Michel Blanquer in the position of Minister of National Education, on whom all eyes are focused. And yet her track record is rather full, she who initiated the LPR Act, initially called the Vidal Act, which kick-started the 2018 ordinances and the ORE Act with Parcoursup. A final report, sure, but not really approved by the main parties involved, testifies to this the opinion piece signed by 600 members of higher education and research staff published in Le Monde last February, the content of which is the request for the resignation of Frédérique Vidal. “We are protesting the humiliation of what should be described as a witch hunt,” they explained, in reference to the university’s research into “Islamic Left” and postcolonialism. Signed by economist Thomas Piketty and research engineer Richard Walter, the platform said in black and white: “We consider such a minister unworthy to represent us and we strongly demand her resignation”. Leaving her in the post would therefore have been a risky gamble.

The Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation mainly works on higher education, research, technology, aerospace, innovation, universities, sciences. It is charged with the preparation and implementation of public policy in the field of higher education, research and technology development. The main skills are: the space policy, the definition of the educational projects of higher education institutions, the allocation of resources and resources allocated by the State within the framework of the interdepartmental mission “Research and higher education”, the establishment and implementation of the investment program for the future, innovation policy, the preparation of government decisions regarding the establishment of research universities with international influence, the promotion of science and technology, the dissemination of scientific, technological and industrial culture and the development and diffusion of digital applications in society and the economy.

The minister himself has authority over three general directorates: that of higher education and professional integration (DGESIP); that of research and innovation (DGRI); that of school education (DGESCO). It may also appeal to other administrations such as “the General Board of the Media and Cultural Industries, the General Board of Businesses or the General Council of Economy, Industry, Energy and Technology,” explains the ministry’s official website.

These are the deputy ministers or state secretaries who preceded Sylvie Retailleau:

  • Frédérique Vidal (May 2017 – May 2022)
  • Thierry Mandon (June 2015 – May 2017)
  • Geneviève Fioraso (April 2014 – March 2015)
  • Laurent Wauquiez (June 2011 – May 2012)
  • Valérie Pecresse (May 2007 – November 2010)
  • François Goulard (June 2005 – May 2007)
  • François Loos (May 2002 – June 2002)
  • Jean de Boishue (May 1995 – November 1995)

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