The Institut Louis Bachelier (ILB) organised a meeting with its community of Louis Bachelier Fellows, which took place on 1 April at the Direction Générale du Trésor (DGT). During this event, discussions focused on the theme “The future of French research: challenges and perspectives”.

“The theme of this meeting is very important for economists and researchers, including you,” said Elyès Jouini, ILB Scientific Vice-President and moderator of the event, by way of introduction and welcome to the 40 or so participants present. He continued: “In the current electoral context, it is very interesting to have an insight into the place, role and funding of research in our economies”.

Public policy requires research

After this brief introduction, Agnès Benassy-Quéré, Chief Economist of the French Treasury, opened the debate by mentioning the importance of research for her institution and the possible areas for improvement: 

“Research and innovation are essential for growth, but they need to be made more effective, especially on issues of funding and sharing between public and private actors. Research helps to improve public policies and DGT relies heavily on research results. DGT also contributes to research, for example with work on the impact of telework, state-guaranteed loans or micro-simulations on business support”, while adding that: “Researchers can help public authorities by responding to the many calls for projects related to the evaluation of existing policies, by participating in meetings with various bodies such as the Conseil d’analyses économiques (CAE) or the Autorité de contrôle prudentiel et de résolution (ACPR), and by putting their results in a more global context so that decision-makers can more easily decide”.

Following these remarks and before introducing the round table and its panelists, Elyès Jouini illustrated the theme of the event by quoting the recent report by the Academy of Sciences entitled “For a new research policy”, which recommends increasing R&D funding and making the profession of researcher more attractive.

Research is a catalyst for economic growth

Philippe Aghion, Professor at the Collège de France, then took the floor via video conference to discuss the role of research in economic growth. “The pandemic has revealed the weaknesses of capitalism in different countries. In the United States, the social model is weak and weakens the most vulnerable, but in terms of innovation, they are better than Europe. On a global level, they are leading the way with China, while Japan and the European Union, especially France, are declining. Yet innovation is very important for growth, as the correlation with patenting shows. Deindustrialisation in France has been caused by a lack of innovation, except in the nuclear and aeronautical sectors. French reindustrialisation therefore requires innovation. Innovation is a chain that starts with basic research and universities. And the United States finances the research links much more than France, with much better endowed organisations. In Germany, research is also better funded. The research tax credit should be directed more towards SMEs, because they innovate more than large groups”.

Assessing research and simplifying procedures

After recalling the contribution of research to growth, Johanna Etner, professor of economics at Nanterre University and project manager at the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, presented her point of view. “Research funding is important and everyone would like more money. But it should be noted that efforts have been made in recent years. The National Research Agency has seen its budget increased, even if there is still progress to be made in terms of project selection,” before adding: “There is also a certain timidity on the part of the scientific community to seek out existing financial resources in France and even European funding. However, the Investissements d’Avenir are in their fourth phase, the stimulus plan and France 2030 will support research. It is also necessary to measure the impact of research by evaluating it in order to answer the following questions: what about the production of knowledge and science? What are its socio-economic impacts? How is research perceived by decision-makers?”

For his part, Alain Trannoy, director of studies at the EHESS, believes that it is necessary to “make teaching jobs attractive, in particular by increasing the salaries of the leading lights of French research”.

Finally, Thierry Coulhon, President of the High Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education, recalled the erosion of French performance in research. He recommended, among other things, to: “Reconcile global research with local research, which is of good quality; finance more research jointly with higher education; better articulate the dual system between universities and grandes écoles; make the players more fluid, simplify and align them; clarify and simplify the many existing mechanisms”.

This event concluded with informal exchanges between the participants on the multidisciplinary nature of research and the sharing between public and private research.