The Letter 2


The Collège de France's new Scientific and Strategic Orientation Committee (COSS)

‘Today's world is seeking references, reasons to marvel, ambitious motivating projects. With the sole objective of furthering knowledge, basic research - that essentially disinterested research which demands real collaboration at international level - is one of the paths on that quest. Science is and will always remain a factor of emancipation for humans and it is important today to emphasize that obvious fact. In this context, the Collège de France has a unique position in France and in Europe but also in the world.' These are the introductory lines of the Annual Report of the International Scientific and Strategic Orientation Committee (COSS) submitted to the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the Collège de France's supervisory ministries in May 2004.

The creation of the COSS in 2003, on the Collège's initiative, stemmed from the wish to benefit from eminent colleagues' attentive and critical view of the Collège's main scientific and strategic orientations and the conditions in which they are implemented. It is not the COSS's role to evaluate the Chairs' scientific activities; this is the responsibility of research organizations and of the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research.

The COSS report in May 2004 was a highlight in the Collège de France's life. This report, the fruit of several meetings, analysed the Collège's particular characteristics, its assets and its weaknesses. It also put forward suggestions and opinions. For instance, it proposed that the Collège enhance its communication policy and define a futureoriented policy for its libraries. It expressed the wish for the human resources policy to be optimized and the Collège de France's financial situation to be improved.

Four years later, as provided for in the statutes, half the member of the COSS have been renewed. The Committee currently comprises twelve scientific personalities from abroad. It is chaired by Professor Detlev Ganten and co-chaired by Professor Peter Mc Cormick. The secretary is Professor Jacques Reisse. The view from outside that the COSS has, with its opinions, critiques and proposals, still appears to be essential for the Collège's life. While the Institution is aware of the strengths that have made it famous - its universality, multi-disciplinarity and independence - it is nevertheless convinced that it has to develop and adapt to a fast-changing world.

Over the past few years the Collège has taken a series of initiatives which largely correspond to the wishes expressed by the COSS in 2004: efforts to increase the dissemination of knowledge, opening up towards society and economic life, moving closer to the university world through the PhD schools, increasing relations with foreign universities, and developing research at the Collège itself. Today a progress report is indispensable. The Collège will be attentive to the COSS's opinions on these points, as these will enable it to focus its strategy on the objectives that the Committee has reviewed and revised.

The COSS meeting in March 2007 enabled it to make contact with the members of the extended executive of the Collège and certain professors at the Cardinal Lemoine and Ulm sites. A preliminary study found that the advice and recommendations put forward by the COSS in 2004 had been followed. Additional details and figures, in a document "The Collège in Figures", will shortly be submitted to the COSS so that it has all the necessary information to draw up a draft report during its next meeting in November 2007 at the Collège. The final report will be presented to the President of the Republic, the supervisory authorities, and finally the Assembly of the Professors in March 2008.

The COSS's role is extremely valuable to enlighten the Collège de France in its scientific choices and its long-term strategic vision. To fulfil its mission today, the Collège defines orientations and takes new initiatives, some of which are entirely novel in the history of the Institution. If they are to be carried out fully, these will require more human and financial resources. It is therefore essential that medium- and long-term objectives and the means required to meet them be subjected to the COSS's critically illuminating scrutiny.

Professor Pierre Corvol
Administrator of the Collège de France