Sorbonne launches bid to become ‘French Harvard’

France’s famous Sorbonne University has launched its first appeal for private funds in a controversial attempt to raise €100 million (£88m) over the next five years in the hope of becoming a “French Harvard”.

The illustrious institution, whose graduates include the Nobel Prize-winning scientists Marie and Pierre Curie, is now 80-per-cent state-financed.

Faculty members say it is underfunded and lags behind many British and American universities.

The fundraising campaign is opposed by Left-wing teachers and students who view private-sector funding as a challenge to the principle of free state education. Only token fees are paid by French undergraduates. 

“We need to change that mentality and usher in a new mindset,” one lecturer said.

French universities, as opposed to elite “Grandes Ecoles” and private colleges, have only been allowed to raise funds privately since 2008.

Even if the Sorbonne achieves its goal, it will still benefit from less private funding than top UK universities or elite US colleges such as Harvard, which raised nearly $1.2 billion last year (£898m).

Student protests at the Sorbonne in the turbulent summer of 1968Credit:
AFP/Getty Images

The Sorbonne’s current annual budget is €670 million (£590m). Barthélemy Jobert, head of the Sorbonne University Foundation, said: “We’ve already been pledged €50 million (£44m), mainly from companies. The real challenge for us is individual donors.”

The university plans to solicit donations from successful alumni, and has a team working on identifying well-placed potential donors among its 360,000 graduates.

Budget cuts have left some buildings in need of repair.

“An American was ready to commit to restoring the Sorbonne chapel organ but he when he saw the state of the chapel, he backed out,” Mr Jobert said.

The Paris municipal authorities are responsible for maintaining the chapel, which needs costly repairs, but have yet to agree to renovate it.

Harvard attracts a great deal of investmentCredit:
AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

The Sorbonne plans to use most of its private funding to create scholarships and inter-disciplinary faculty posts, and to buy an atomic force microscope.

In January, the Sorbonne merged with the Pierre-et-Marie-Curie science university.

It now has three faculties: science, medicine and arts, with 6,700 faculty members and 55,000 students.

In the 10 years since the ban on private funding was lifted, 49 of the country’s 73 universities have established fund-raising foundations, according to Sophie Rieunier, a researcher at the Paris-Est-Marne-La Vallée university.

Provincial universities have had more success with private donors because of their close links with local industry. Bordeaux University, for example, now works closely with the wine chateaux. 

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