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The French economy is the second largest in the euro zone and has grown modestly in recent years. A marked deindustrialisation has implications for the competitiveness of the French export industry. In view of this, mobilising STI to promote innovation-based growth is at the top of the policy agenda.
Hot Issues are major national STI policy priorities, as self-reported by countries in their responses to the OECD STIO 2014 policy questionnaire.
Innovating to contribute to structural adjustment and a new approach to growth
France puts innovation at the heart of its policy for growth, which focuses on new industrial policy, particularly on “managing” the energy transition and on information technology. Policies to promote business R&D and the development of young firms have been strengthened and a number of specific plans have been announced. The New Face of Industry in France, of September 2013, selected 34 industrial activities that will benefit from co-ordinated state support and business efforts to commercialise new technologies (e.g. fuel efficient car, digital hospital, e-education tools), by 2020. A complementary plan, the New Deal for Innovation (November 2013), includes 40 measures to evaluate public policies, to foster an entrepreneurial culture, to facilitate technology transfer and to encourage the growth of innovative firms (by facilitating their access to markets, finance, intellectual property, etc.).
Innovation to contribute to addressing social challenges (including inclusiveness)
France aims to improve the contribution of public research to meeting major societal challenges (the environment, ageing). This will be a major component of the National Strategy for Research French (SNR) being elaborated in the first half of 2014 through broad consultation with stakeholders, notably PRIs. The implementation plan will identify the needed resources. It will be linked with the Investments for the Future (PIA), with a budget of USD 23.8 billion (EUR 20 billion) for research and innovation over 2010-20.
Reforming and improving public research system (including university research)
The French public research system continues to evolve. Measures have been implemented to strengthen the links between PRIs, universities, and social and economic stakeholders. Better integration of universities, engineering and business schools (grandes écoles) and PRIs is also a priority. This includes a programme funding excellent teams that are affiliated both to PRIs and to universities through the PIA. A new evaluation agency for universities and PRIs established in 2014 (the HCERES) has a status that guarantees its independence from the evaluated parties.
To strengthen the competitiveness of businesses and address societal challenges through the commercialisation of public research and the reduction of the time to market of business R&D is a main goal of French policy and is linked to the EU Horizon 2020 agenda. A plan with this goal was established in 2012-13, and the New Deal for Innovation also includes some specific measures. Entrepreneurship courses are now given in all universities. Technology Transfer Acceleration Companies (SATT), are being set up as part of the PIA with a specific business plan and professional staff. Joint PRI-SME labs are being supported. The PIA also funds several dedicated joint research facilities of businesses and PRIs or universities, including some for developing technologies relating to the energy transition.
Public R&D expenditure as a share of GDP is above the OECD median (Panel 1a). The reforms started in the mid-2000s have continued. In July 2013, a law on the missions and organisation of the higher education and research system was passed, which encourages them to associate or merge so as to reach critical mass in research and teaching.
With business R&D at 1.48% of GDP in 2012, France is just above the OECD median (Panel 1d), but below Germany and countries in northern Europe. To boost R&D and innovation, the government has maintained the R&D tax credit, which is among the most generous in the world, with a total claim of around USD 6 billion a year (EUR 5 billion). It has also taken a number of measures to strengthen direct support, such as the 34 key industries mentioned above.
Boosting the creation and growth of innovative start-ups is a prominent goal of French policy. Recent measures include the creation of the new Banque Publique d’Investissement (Bpifrance), which supports innovation by start-ups and SMEs, the broadening of the Young Innovation Firms (JEI), an instrument that supports young innovative companies, and the creation of an Innovation Tax Credit (CII) aimed at increasing innovation investments by independent SMEs. In 2011 a fund of funds (FNA), with USD 714 million (EUR 600 million), was established for seed capital. It had made 15 investments as of 30 November 2013 in digital technologies (45%), life sciences (40%) and clean technology (10%).
PRIs file many patents (Panel 1p). To improve the return to public research, the aforementioned law of July 2013 established technology transfer as one of the missions of PRIs. As part of the PIA, the SATT aim to achieve critical mass and the professionalism needed for technology transfer.
Since 2004, France’s Competitiveness Clusters (pôles de compétitivité) have funded public entities’ R&D projects on specific themes (e.g. nanotechnology, aerospace). Following an evaluation in 2012, the third phase of this policy places more emphasis on the downstream stage (i.e. prototyping and commercialisation of innovations).
Increasing the exposure of French researchers to foreign colleagues is an important policy goal. Several programmes help French researchers get temporary positions abroad and attract leading foreign researchers to France. For instance, the Chairs of Excellence give up to USD 2.4million (EUR 2 million) to selected foreign researchers for a period of 18-48 months in France. In light of the modest French participation in the 7th Framework Programme, the government is actively preparing actors to participate in Horizon 2020.
The law of July 2013 expands the autonomy of HEIs, giving them greater freedom to design their curricula. France has a relatively high rate of doctoral students in S&E (Panel 1w). Doctoral students have a newstatute (the Doctoral Contract), which includes a higher salary and the possibility of teaching, consulting, etc. Student entrepreneurship is also encouraged: e.g. dedicated classes, counselling by experienced entrepreneurs, facilitated access to funding, etc.