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French Scientists Gain Ground in Protests

PARIS—The French government has agreed to two key demands of its protesting researchers: nixing proposed job cuts and giving individual scientists the final say in how much time they spend on education. But the concessions may not end the battle.

France has been riven over the past month by the biggest protests in higher education in decades. On Friday, French higher education and research minister Valérie Pécresse reached a basic agreement with three unions about her most controversial plan: A decree that would give university presidents the power to decide how much time academic staff spend on research and education, a ratio now fixed by national regulations. Pécresse has now agreed that no such changes can be made without the individual researcher's consent, a concession that satisfied three smaller unions. Earlier in the week, French prime minister François Fillon promised to cancel the proposed cut of several hundreds academic jobs in 2010 and 2011.

The biggest union and the engine behind the recent strikes and demonstrations, SNESup-FSU, welcomed the concessions as a "first success," but wants the government to also take off the table a proposed change in teachers' training programs, halt reforms at the National Center for Scientific Research, and offer a multi-year plan to hire new researchers.

Without that, there's no point in further negotiations, according to SNESup-FSU Secretary-General Jean Fabbri. "Most of the people who have joined the strike and the demonstrations agree with us," says Fabbri, who expects another massive turnout when protesters take to the streets in Paris and many other cities again on Thursday.

Pécresse had meetings today with the other trade unions representing university lecturers and researchers.