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French press review 6 January, 2010

Communist l'Humanité looks at the French university sector, currently in the throes of something like privatisation. Since January 1st, no fewer than 73 French third-level institutions (of a total of 83) have become autonomous. That might sound positive, but it just means that central government is no longer prepared to pay the bills.

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The universities now have to go, begging bowl in hand, to private enterprise, looking for sponsors. It's a disaster, says Humanité. It has led to savage in-fighting between departments, the total devaluation of certain research areas, an increasingly business-oriented management style. And the new rules encourage universities to cheat, taking the state funds that ARE still available...for construction projects, for example...but using the money to boost the salaries offered to foreigh specialists. Because, without big-name teachers, what hope has a university of attracting the private sector cash vitally needed to keep the day-to-day operation running?

The lads at Humanité admit that it's not all bad news. They look at the success of Toulouse Capitol, where the economics school managed to collect 30 million euros from private investors, and then obliged the government to keep an unwise promise to match every private sector euro with one euro from state coffers. That gave autonomous Toulouse 60 million euros, which they first invested at 4% and then went head-hunting for the best economists that money can buy. They have now secured the services of bright lads from Oxford, Harvard and the London School of Economics.

Sadly, the economics professors at Toulouse did not see the crisis coming. Their 60 million at 4% went down the same tubes as Goldman Sachs and the rest of the global financial machine. They are currently getting a miserly return of 0.2%.

Right-wing Le Figaro gives front-page prominence to a case of industrial espionage, involving the car-maker Renault. Apparently, the French motor company on Monday suspended three senior managers, one of them a director, on suspicion that the three might have given details of Renault's electric car programme to "outsiders". The facts seem fairly well established. The motive and the final destination of the information remain to be established. Le Figaro says it's clear that the electric car is the future of the industry. They suggest two possibilities for the identity of the bad guys...either an industry competitor wanting to know just how far down the road the Renault electric car is, or a supplier trying to organise his own future in the light of progress at the parent company. The Japanese, Korean, Chinese, German and American car manufacturers will be watching the outcome with interest, and might even make job offers to the three disgraced executives. Once they get out of jail.

Libération gives the front-page honours to one Jacques Servier. Jacques is 88 years old, the ninth-richest man in France, a member of the Legion of Honour, and the boss of the pharmaceutical company which produced the drug Mediator. Mediator, you'll know by now, is suspected of having killed at least 500 people here in France. Some studies say as many as 2,000 may have died. The drug was initially intended to help diabetics. Then doctors started prescribing it as an appetite suppressant. All this, while the US and other European countries were taking the drug off the shelves because of worrying links to increased mortality among those taking Mediator.

"Tosh," says Jacques Servier. He gave his employees their New Year pep talk earlier this week, and told them the company was the victim of a mafia-style smear campaign. Jacques clearly has no idea about the mafia, who do murder and mayhem, not smear campaigns, but we can let that pass. Jacques told the troops that Mediator had killed no more than three people, which is hardly worth mentioning, and wished his employees a happy New Year.

Le Figaro informs readers that the auction house Christie's will next week hold an art sale in New York. Among the items up for grabs, an Andy Warhol print of Mao Tse Tung, helmsman of the Chinese cultural revolution. But this is no ordinary Mao print. It comes complete with two bullet holes, inflicted on the work in the 1970s when the actor Dennis Hopper woke up, saw Mao floating on his wall, drew his revolver and blasted the great man. When Warhol saw the damage, he was delighted, and added two stickers to the original print, confirming that the holes really were caused by gunfire. Christie's hope that the shot Mao will make between $20,000 and $30,000. They're obviously being coy. The last Mao put up for auction made $17.5 million. And that hadn't been shot by Dennis Hopper. Twice.

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