French state secretary for higher education and research steps down

The French secretary of state for higher education and research, Geneviève Fioraso, has stepped down for health reasons, the French government announced yesterday. The minister in charge of national education, higher education, and research, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, will temporarily take over her duties.

Fioraso became minister for higher education and research in May 2012 after François Hollande was elected president; her role was downgraded to that of secretary of state last year in a Cabinet reshuffle. Fioraso's main achievement was a new law that aimed to simplify France's higher education and research landscape and give the nation a stronger strategic research agenda; it was passed in 2013 after an exhaustive nationwide consultation.

Limited by France's austerity policies, Fioraso had few budget increases to offer, however, and she came under fire from groups that hoped that she would make a more radical break with the policies of the right-wing government of Nicolas Sarkozy. She was pressured to increase baseline funding for universities and research centers and create more permanent positions for early-career researchers, culminating in a 3-week protest in October.

“We find that she hasn’t done anything good for research,” says Guillaume Bossis, a biologist at the National Center for Scientific Research and spokesman for Sciences en Marche, the group behind last year's protests. Bossis says Fioraso ignored protests from the scientific community and pretended that all was well while only a minority of well-supported researchers was happy. But Alain Beretz, president of the University of Strasbourg, told Le Monde that he “very much appreciated her commitment to the universities.”

Quitting the government is "heartbreaking," Fioraso told regional newspaper Le Dauphiné Libéré yesterday. The French press has speculated that Hollande will name her successor in another Cabinet reshuffle after France's departmental elections, which are scheduled for 22 and 29 March.