The PRES (Poles of Research and higher education) : a new dynamics of cooperation between French Universities

With the research law of April 2006, the PRES (“Pôles de recherche et de l'Enseignement supérieur”) have been introduced to the French system of Higher Education. The main objective of the PRES is to build up strong research departments, visible on an international level, which link together functions of universities and research institutions of a particular site (an area referring in specific to a given city, metropolitan area or region). The French Conference of University Presidents (CPU) has strongly promoted the concept of the PRES to introduce a new set of dynamics within French institutions of Higher Education and Research.
The main objectives of the PRES are:
- To make coherent the institutional politics of institutions of a particular site with respect to education, counselling and professional orientation, mainly in the area of master programmes and doctorates.
- Coherence and merging the research potentials of a site.
- Improvement of clarity of organization, efficiency and governance.
- The visibility and global attractiveness of partner institutions.
- To highlight sectors of excellence of a given site, to boost the research capacities and the international impact of the institutions.
- To create synergies between institutions in the operational services or in the development of new services and new infrastructure.

Based on the inter-institutional dynamics of a site, numerous universities and other institutions of higher education are engaged in the construction of PRES adapted to their specific situation and expressing their specific ambitions. Other partners, such as research institutions and local authorities are normally associated in these developments. Nine PRES have been formally constituted in France, encompassing about 50 institutions of Higher Education.
All PRES have in common the delegation of responsibilities in significant fields, mainly in research, doctorate education and international relations from the different institutions to the level of the PRES. For example, all scientific publications of the nine PRES are from now on published under the only signature of the PRES; this unified identification on one site is very important within the framework of measures which are used to evaluate scientific production on a international level.
Placed in a different geographical and institutional context, the character of each PRES is, however, quite different from one case to another. A quick "tour de France" shows that, according to the local situation, each project concentrates on all or only part of the different objectives of the PRES enumerated above. According to their objectives we can distinguish schematically three types of PRES that are in the works:

The PRES "display/screen" which serves to improve the visibility of excellent research of partner institutions. Only a part of the research activities are placed on the PRES level.

The PRES "pre fusion", serving to administrate and pilot, on behalf of the partner institutions, important parts of their activities. We find this approach mainly in regional metropolitan areas where different universities exist as a result of the re-establishment of French Universities in the late 60th and 70th (for example Aix/Marseille and Nancy). If the institutions are determined to get closer in order to, in time, become one institution, passing through a PRES is not compulsory.

The PRES "cooperation" serves as a framework for optimizing the organization of the universities within the PRES by promoting stronger cooperation between institutions of higher education and research of a specific site. This could, for example, relate to how institutions define their educational offerings of one site, the putting together of different research fields, or the shared utilization of rare or expensive services (juridical expertise, administration of the portfolio of patents, production of online educational material etc...). It is possible that in the long run, a PRES of this type will lead to an institutional organization of a new type, where the different institutions, mutatis mutandis, like the University of California or the University of Quebec, are organized in different campuses which are geographically distant from one another, and with an important delegation of responsibilities. This system would present a viable alternative to the development of a strong hierarchy between full university and university colleges. It would do so by ensuring the complete provision in education and research within the context of the network of institutions, rather than within the context of individual universities themselves.

This system will reaffirm and solidify the creativity and the capacity of adaption of the university community; some of the running projects will propose intermediary solutions or a mixture of the three types. All this expresses the collectif effort of the universities to take into account and regulate the diversity of the higher education system in France.

The CPU is convinced that, in the long run, the PRES will help to make the French university system more efficient, while at the same time respecting the diversity of conditions in different places. On an international level, the PRES will make the university system more easily understandable and straight-forward, and the PRES will strengthen the impact of the institutions on an international level.

More information is available in French language on the webpage of the “Conférence des Présidents d'Université” (CPU):

• « Aix-Marseille université » : the three universities of Aix en Provence and Marseille ;
• « Nancy Université » : the universities Nancy 1 et 2 and the INP (Institut national de polytechnique) ;
• « Paris Est Université » : the « école nationale des ponts et chaussées », the university Marne la Vallée, the university Paris 12 Val-de-Marne, the « école supérieure d'ingénieurs en électronique et électrotechnique » (ESIEE) and the Laboratoire central des ponts et chaussées ;
• « Paris Tech » : 10 engineering schools, such as « école nationale des ponts et chaussées », the « école nationale supérieure de chimie de Paris », the « école nationale supérieure des mines de Paris », the ENSAM, the « école polytechnique », the « école supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielle de la ville de Paris, Agro Paris Tech ;
• « Université de Bordeaux » : the 4 universities of Bordeaux and three engineering schools and the IEP (Institut d'Etudes politiques);
• « Université de Lyon » : the 3 universities of Lyon, the 2 ENS and the « école centrale de Lyon » ;
• « Université de Toulouse » : the 3 universities of Toulouse, the INP de Toulouse, the INSA and the « école nationale supérieure de l'aéronautique et de l'espace » ;
• « Université européenne de Bretagne » : the 2 universities of Rennes, the universities of Bretagne occidentale, Bretagne Sud, the Agrocampus de Rennes, the INSA de Rennes, the campus of ENS Cachan, the ENST Bretagne and the ENSC Rennes ;
« UniverSud Paris » : the universities Paris Sud 11, Versailles Saint-Quentin-en Yvelines, the ENS Cachan, the « Ecole Centrale Paris » and the « école Supérieure d'Electricité »(SUPELEC).

Conférence des Présidents d'Université (CPU)
103, boulevard Saint-Michel
75005 Paris