The Letter 3


For the Administrator of the Collège de France to be reviewing the year's activities once again may seem rather pointless: what is a single year in the life of an institution whose history dates back to 1530? It is nevertheless interesting to compare our objectives with the Collège's undertakings and achievements over the past year.

One of our priorities was to broaden the dissemination of the Collège's lectures and conferences via modern means of communication. By doing this we hoped to extend the institution's outreach, at the same time as upholding the principles of free and open access to our teaching. On-line downloading of the fifteen lectures available on the Collège de France website far exceeded our expectations in 2007: one million times in six to eight months. This clearly attests to a sustained interest in knowledge and research by a far larger public than the typically Parisian audiences who frequent the Collège's amphitheatres - even though a growing proportion of our lectures are delivered outside the capital, in France and abroad. This is an encouragement to intensify our efforts to spread knowledge even further, by increasing the number of lectures that can be consulted on-line or downloaded, and by videorecording lectures.

Expanding the Collège de France's openness towards society, the academic world and the international community is another objective. This year Professor Mathias Fink will hold the annual Chair of Technological Innovation - Liliane Bettencourt, created in 2006 to study the application of science in society, and devoted to bio-technologies in 2006 and computer technology in 2007. Professor Fink, whose work has contributed substantially to the development of new medical therapies, home automation and submarine acoustics, will give a lecture series titled "Waves and images". In the 2008-2009 academic year two of the annual Chairs will become thematic Chairs, for a period of four to five years. The International Chair will be devoted to the theme "Knowledge Against Poverty". The underlying idea is the following: to be efficient, a science actively applied on the ground to combat poverty must be based on structured knowledge, implying the communication and comparison of knowledge in widely diverse fields. To a large extent, this type of science still has to be developed. In 2008-2009 this Chair will be occupied by Professor Esther Duflo, who will deliver a lecture on "Poverty and Development in the World". The theme of the European Chair will be "Sustainable Development - Environment, Energy and Society". It will be occupied by Professor Henri Leridon, whose lecture series will be titled "Demography, End of the Transition".

On an exploratory basis, the Collège de France wanted to enable PhD students to follow the lectures of Collège de France professors as part of their university curriculum. A simple agreement with several doctoral schools has enabled about thirty students to follow the lectures of the Liliane Bettencourt Chair of Technological Innovation, and those of the scientific and philosophical Chairs. This collaboration between the Collège de France and universities is enriching for all concerned, especially the students, and the plan is to increase it over the next few years.

As regards international outreach, the Collège de France has signed new teaching agreements with the University of Bonn (Germany), the Free University of Brussels, Francophone universities in Belgium, the City University of Hong Kong (China), the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel), the University and the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne (Switzerland), and Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic).

Finally, part of the Collège de France's buildings are still undergoing renovation, but some of the construction work will be completed by the end of 2008, in particular the general library. Once the reorganization of the chemistry and biology sections is complete it will be possible to set up laboratories for several Chairs and to host new young research teams. We also look forward to the reopening of the cafeteria, a convivial space for all.

These accomplishments are the fruit of a remarkable collective effort. The mobilization and responsiveness of all concerned - lecturers as well as administrative and technical staff - have been flawless. The Collège's streamlined governance, which enables it to react swiftly to problems as soon as they arise and to take the necessary decisions, has facilitated the implementation of these initiatives.

As the Collège de France's ambitious policy requires substantial financial resources, the Ministry of Higher Education and Research has provided valuable support enabling us to continue our work. However, as noted in 2006, we cannot expect the state to provide everything and therefore have to find other sources of funding, mainly through the development of research partnerships and sponsorships. In this respect the Collège has already received substantial financial aid, notably from the Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation, Mr Michel David-Weill and Sanofi-Aventis. The institution nevertheless remains entirely free to determine its own strategies and orientation, and to appoint its professors in the disciplines and fields that it defines without any outside intervention.

Finally, the Administrator is responsible for ensuring that the institution functions in the service of all, by finding the required resources and appropriate staff to meet the objectives defined by the institution. It was primarily to this end that the Foundation of the Collège de France was created in June 2007. The goal of this state-approved body is to develop and further teaching, research, training and the dissemination of knowledge in France and abroad. It has been designed to adequately meet the financial needs of research projects, the Chairs and the laboratories, and thus to promote top-level research oriented towards society.

Professor Pierre Corvol
Administrator of the Collège de France