Lab life. The scientific community is once again bustling around the perennial questions of funding its research activities. With the future research programming law (LPPR) which has entered into discussion at the National Assembly, appetites are awakening for a little-known loot, the preciput. This mechanism, called overhead in English, is linked to the funding of research projects, not from the own funds of universities or research organizations, but from competitive calls for tenders which select the projects proposed by researchers. In France, the major player in these calls for tenders is the National Research Agency (ANR), created in 2005, which eliminates 85% of the projects.
To cover the costs incurred by these contracts (management, modification of facilities, support staff, etc.), an amount is added by the ANR to the project budget. This is the rush. Today it is around 20%. The future law provides that it would increase to 40%, with in addition an increasing volume of the total budget, which would increase in ten years the preciput from 90 million to 450 million euros, or the equivalent of half of the current CNRS operating budget.
But how will it be calculated? Who will it be awarded to? What will it be used for? These are the issues of the law under discussion, and especially of its implementing decrees.
For the sake of calculation, today the precipitate is cut in half. A part, 8% of the costs incurred, is in fact included in the budget requested by the researcher. Then a second amount, 11%, is applied by the ANR to the purely research part of the budget. The ANR would find it simpler for the future 40% rate to be unique and apply to strictly research needs. But nothing has been decided yet.
A change of nature
More delicate is the question of the recipient of these funds. A researcher, in France, can have an employer different from the owner of the walls of his laboratory (the host) and different from the manager of the ANR contract, because the research units are often mixed between research organizations, schools , universities. Foundations or private companies are also affected by these ANR contracts. Today, the “8%” of the preciput goes to the manager and the “11%” to the host. But tomorrow ? The battle promises to be tough because the current situation is very unbalanced between a CNRS, the first to profit from the precipitate (around 19 million euros in 2018), and the universities. He receives 70% preciput as “manager” and 30% as “host”, while the opposite is true for universities. “Worse,” the third player, the employer, could complicate the distribution.
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