- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2007


PARIS — The government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has told cash-strapped French universities to sell off their castles, vineyards and other prized possessions and invest the money in education.

Valerie Pecresse, the minister for higher education, made the suggestion amid heated negotiations with student unions over plans to reform the university system.

Since the May 1968 student uprisings, French leaders have treated university reform with care. Mr. Sarkozy’s proposals were postponed Wednesday amid threats of a “summer of discontent.”

One element of the reform is to end state control of how universities spend their money and give them greater freedom to manage their own budgets.

Mr. Sarkozy said he hopes this could lead to private investment and greater competition.

This freedom could cause many of the country’s 85 universities to sell high-maintenance properties.

According to Le Figaro newspaper, the Universities of Paris, a grouping which includes the Sorbonne, owns a string of properties, such as the 1,180 acre Richelieu estate in the Indre-et-Loire and the villa Finaly in Florence.

In all, Parisian universities own more than 183 million square feet of real estate.

Those in Dijon, Bordeaux and Paris VI all own vineyards, which are said to produce excellent vintages. Bordeaux university owns two chateaux as well as an 1850 bourgeois villa. Nice has a chateau with a theater on its grounds.

However, Bruno Julliard, head of the national union of students, said selling off such jewels was “quite honestly not a priority” given the state of French universities.

“We have fallen so far behind other universities in Europe and [the rest of the industrial world] that the No. 1 priority is state funding,” he said.

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