Minister Frédérique Vidal opens Universities Australia 2019 Conference [fr]

Ms Frédérique Vidal is the French Minister for Higher Education, Research and Innovation. In her opening speech, she addresses great challenges that lay ahead of us in the realms of climate change, health, artificial intelligence, just to name a few. The higher education and research sectors have a great role to play in finding solutions to these problems. The duty of the innovation branch is, in turn, to bring these solutions to the market. France and Australia can also bring their strengths together to bring about change in both research, and in the lives of our youth.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Colleagues and fellow researchers,

First of all, I would like to thank Catriona Jackson, CEO of Universities Australia and Margaret Gardner, Chair of Universities Australia and vice-chancelor of Monash University for or-ganising this event so smoothly and inviting me to speak here this morning. Considering the thriving scientific collaborations that our two nations have developed in the past years, I consider it an honor to open the conference and be given the chance to address a crowd of aus-tralian universities representatives and scien-tists with whom France works for a better future.

I would like to start this speech by citing the words of Peter Doherty – not the rock star but the world famous Australian Nobel laureate : « I like complexity, and am delighted by the unex-pected ». The title of the conference – degrees of change – relates to that really nicely. « Degrees of change » asks a tricky question to science in general and universities in particular. How do universities, science and scientific production interact with the surrounding world ? Aside from papers published in peer-reviewed journals how does science make a change in the lives of each and everyone of us ?

Current times have unveiled important col-lective challenges : for example, climate change has shown to have devastating effects on populations but also on the fauna and flora such as the coral reef of Australia to give a local example ; poverty endures in developed nations and developing countries alike, human health is still under the threat of untreatable diseases such as the Ebola virus, just to name a few. Science made these challenges known to the wider public. My profound belief is that science has also one of the greatest roles to play in finding solutions. In fact, The greatest revolutions the world has known were born in labs. It must be said and repeated to all those who question the role and place of science.

In times when our values are under threat, research allows our societal models to adapt, to keep moving forward in the face of difficulties, should they be environmental, societal, technological or medical. It allows our nations to choose among a range of possibilities instead of being pushed into choosing solutions preferred and designed by others. Research allows our countries to choose the path that best corresponds to our values in times of adversity. It is, again, research that enables us to keep our freedom to choose the way we want to live our lives, to choose our priorities and to choose the way we want the world to be. I am not posting science as a miracle cure, nor an absolute, let alone a dogma, or a religion that would require to be preached to the greatest number. The burning questions that run through our society compel us to humility and pragmatism. But not to renunciation, quite the opposite. It is my strongest belief that knowledge is the key to any transformation, present or future, individual or collective.

However, just like Australia, we believe a number of actors are necessary for research outputs to trickle down into the lives of the constituency, for knowledge to be complete. France perceives knowledge to be the product of three actors : research institutions, higher education and innovation. It is what we like to call the « triangle of knowledge ».

First, we are strongly attached to the link between research and teaching. Research, and specifically public research was never designed to be kept among peers. The underlying logic is extremely clear : publicly financed research projects should be made available to the community. Science is a common good that should be made accessible to all.

While fake news is very easily accessible, scientific publications are protected behind paywalls. While it takes ten minutes to invent and spread a crisp and easy to understand fake news, it often takes ten years to produce a scientific demonstration providing quality infor-mation and arguments.

As scientists, our duty is to enlighten our fellow citizens. We must be able to disseminate our results quickly, transparently and completely to all citizens regardless of borders. As Louis Pasteur, the famous French biologist once said : « Science holds no nationality ». Open science is the ideal vehicle of knowledge in the face of ru-mors. I do not resign myself to the fact that we must confine our scientific results behind a wall of payment, separating those who know from those who are condemned to ignore.

It is in that perspective that research deserves to be taught. It is with this ideal in mind that France has chosen to reorganize its higher education landscape in important clusters, which we call IDEX and I-site, bringing together research centers and universities, nourishing lectures by state-of-the-art science, and bringing new inventive brains and ideas to research.

The third actor of knowledge is of course innovation. Innovation is often the most visible part of the triangle of knowledge. It is research directly transformed into useful goods and services. Innovation, in particular technology-intensive innovation, is a priority for me because I believe innovation will be an important part of the solution to the great challenges of our times, should they be climate change, digital transformation or the aging of the population. However, innovation cannot be reduced to an invention that meets its market. Behind an innovative product, there are emerging start-ups, small and medium sized entreprises who in-crease their competitiveness, companies that take leadership in a sector. Innovation is the very core of our economies. Thus, innovation is nothing less than science in action, the science that engages in the transformation of the world.

When it comes to innovation, France has a great ambition: to become the country of start-ups and entrepreneurship, to become the "start-up nation" of the world. French President Em-manuel Macron called for the construction of an « Enlightment entrepreneurship, by reinventing our values, reinventing our love of freedom of rights and Justice ». In other words, « a country of unicorns ». Thinking outside the box and promoting a truly entrepreneurial spirit is one of the cornerstones of our new policy on innovation just as promoting the talents and skills of people is at the heart of the Australian national innovation and science strategy. The linkages we create by increasingly including innovation structures on university campuses is one among the many initiatives we have taken to bring in-novation, higher education and research closer together.

The European Union, also holds the view that the economaic world, science and higher education are all part of the same realm. To France, the European Union is not just a name, it is both our history and our future. In two decades we have come to build a common language that allows our higher educa-tion systems to interact. This shared grammar is based on the structuring of studies in 3 cycles, using common ECTS credits and the mutual recognition of diplomas. There is the letter and there is the spirit: by always asking more from our higher education institutions, by giving each other a guarantee of their quality, we have in-stilled an ethic into the european dialogue. It is undeniably trust that allows our students to move and our institutions to cooperate. Our higher education systems are more readable, our offer more attractive and our students spend more time abroad. On the other side of the coin, each and every European country has become a door, an access to the European space to foreign students and researchers, and France promotes this vision.

France is currently the 4th most attractive country on the planet for foreign students and the 1rst non english-speaking one. We are working hard with the « Choose France » cam-paign to enhance this attractiveness by devel-opping programs taught in English and by offer-ing intensive French courses to students during their stay within our borders. To enhance the visibility of higher education institutions that have a strong international outlook, we have even created the label « choose France ». For Australian students, this means an easy access to institutions that best meet their criteria during their search for a host university in France. During his visit to Australia last year, President Macron encouraged Australian students to come to France in bigger numbers. Our bilateral student mobility remains unbalanced, with a greater number of French students coming to Australia than the other way around, particularly through the exchange agreements that your universities have established with French part-ners. Increasing Australian students outbound mobility is a challenge that French universities are ready to tackle with you. Today the range of opportunities available to your students in France is wider than ever before. In addition to the exchange programs, the increasing level of cooperation between our universities opens new pathways for your students to discover our country and everything it has to offer. From summer short programs to research and indus-try internships, from dual master’s degrees to joint « cotutelle » PhD, students from Australia are more than ever « Welcome to France ».

As I was saying earlier, one of the many things we have to offer to Australian students is our capacity to guarantee them a fruitful experience of education or research in France, while enabling them to travel across Europe to expe-rience all that our continent has to offer. Because if the Eiffel tower is definetly staying in Paris, you still need to travel to Italy to see the Ponte Vecchio. Travel shapes youth, as the French saying goes.

For research, the European Union is also an opportunity that deserves attention from Aus-tralian scientists. Horizon 2020 constitutes the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever, with nearly €80 billion (127 billion Australian dollars) of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market. Australian scientists can participate in this endeavour by matching European funding. Projects in the domains of health, medical research and innovative projects which are at the heart of Australia’s 2030 strategic plan, even benefit from an EU-Australia co-funding mechanism. Today, French and Australian scientists are involved in over 90 projects through the H2020 funding scheme and should continue to do so as it helps both sides take great strides towards their objectives of scientific excellence.

However, French politics in terms of higher education and research does not stop at Europe’s doors. It goes far beyond the borders of the common market. For instance, by pushing forward initiatives such as the franco-senegalese campus or the franco-tunisian university, France hopes to export the excellence of its higher education system to the African continent all the while adapting its offer to the specific needs of the local market. These bilateral campuses wish to guarantee a better employability to young graduates. Their regional outreach provides students with an educational background which resonates better with the reality of the local market. The education on offer within these bilateral platforms range from vocational trainings to PhD programmes and France’s ambition is that they would be recognized both in France and in the country where it is set.

This ambitious African policy follows one of the strong beliefs of French president Emmanuel Macron : that African youth should be engaged with without delay because they are the future of one of the continents with the greatest potential in general and for research, innovation and higher education in particular. France’s outreach in terms of higher education, research and innovation also goes as far as China. In order to export our excellence, we have, for instance created 11 French-chinese institutes with a special focus on engineering. These initiatives work towards building an equal playing field with China and always have at their core the concepts of reciprocity and win-win outputs for the two countries.

Creating a common ambitious French-australian strategy has not always been easy notably because of the 16909 kilometers that separate Canberra from Paris. For us, Australia is literally on the other side of the earth. But France and Australia have gone beyond this tremendous distance to learn from each other’s strengths. In 2016, Australia decided to trust the French Naval Group firm for the construction of 12 submarines. This contract runs over a period of 50 years and includes important higher education, research and innovation facets. Indeed, the construction of submarines supposes the adequate workforce to build them to guarantee their maintenance, and these will re-quire training and education. The transfer of know-how that is part of the contract also includes important research aspects. From that perspective, French and Australian actors have made a big step yesterday by laying the first stones of the OzCean Technocampus bringing together universities, research facilities, gov-ernment representatives and the marine indus-try in a common place. This ambitious initiative intends to connect the different actors of the sector to foster ideas and eventually bring about innovation. The exchange of expertise between our two countries will also be facilitated by the agreement on the professional recognition of engineering degrees signed only a few days ago between Engineers Australia and the French Engineers Titles Commission (CTI).

The best asset of the French-Australian strategic partnership is the commonality of our val-ues. Just a stone’s throw away from this building, the Australian War Memorial reminds us the invaluable sacrifice made by Australia to protect freedom and justice, on the land of France. As our Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said last November during the celebration of the centenary of the battle of Villers-Bretonneux: « We will never forget that 100 years ago a young and brave nation on the other side of the world made history by writing our history. »

Today our outlook on the world is in many ways similar. We share a common wish for transparency. France and Australia are also two countries strongly attached to international law. This is important at a time when the geopolitical context undergoes tremendous changes, as the influence of China grows globally, and even more so in this region, or when the pervasiveness of artificial intelligence raises global societal and ethical questions – these two being somehow connected. Our common values enable us to cooperate widely because we are often ethically and juridically on the same line.

As a matter of fact, tomorrow, the French-australian Joint Science and Innovation Meeting will be held in this very town on a range of di-verse themes : health ; space and astronomy ; materials, energy and mines ; industry of the future including artificial intelligence ; climate, environment and marine sciences; vegetal ecol-ogy and agriculture. These research areas are only the tip of the iceberg of the cooperation France and Australia could and should develop to drive transformation. Our mutual strengths in sectors such as health and IA could greatly benefit from wider cooperation schemes, from more of collaborations and publications and from a greater number of student exchanges. Today, an important set of collaborations will be signed between French and Australian laboratories and universities. For example, our Parisian university Paris Science et Lettre is opening a liaison office at the Australian National University to boost scientific collaborations but also to guarantee Australian students that would like to travel to France for their study abroad better information about the procedures to undertake. It is these types of collaborations that need to be pushed forward. For the very reason that our two countries are at opposite sides of the globe. Encounters such as the joint science and innovation meeting that will take place tomorrow, enable us to move forward and bring the world and our respective constituencies with us. They enable us to bring transformation to the world, by bringing our youth to see something else, to experience another way of life and diverse ways of thinking, by showing them how different systems can also bring about excellence. They also allow us to transform the world by the research collaborations that we will develop through these meetings, by the innovation outputs of these very cooperation schemes that will reach the market with the help of innovative businesses.

I think that this is what the world of higher education and research can bring about to change the world. I think it is our duty as uni-versities to carry this out as far as we can.

Thank you for your attention.

Dernière modification : 08/03/2019

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