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A great ambition for
humanities and social sciences
at risk of failure
Public thematic report
January 2022
Announced in September 2009, the project to create an HSS campus was intended to
drive the revival of Humanities and Social Sciences in France. Often lauded as the counterpart
of the Paris-Saclay operation, Campus Condorcet, located on two sites in Aubervilliers and
Porte de La Chapelle in Paris, would therefore bring together several research bodies or
institutions, the National Centre for Scientific Research (
Centre National de la Recherche
or CNRS), the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (
École des
Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
or EHESS), the National School of Charters (
Nationale des Chartes
or ENC), the
École Pratique des Hautes Études
(EPHE), the
Maison des Sciences de l
(FMSH), the
Institut National d
Études Démographiques
(INED), as well as the Universities of Paris 1, Paris 8 and Paris 13 (subsequently joined by
Paris 3 and Paris 10). The purpose of the
Grand Équipement Documentaire
(GED), designed
as a shared international documentary and digital platform, was to bring everything together.
Campus Condorcet was set up as a partnership project, bringing together eleven
institutions, schools, universities and research bodies, thus uniting the majority of the research
forces in the Ile-de-France region in the field of social and human sciences. However, its
working methods involving cooperation, pooling and coordination have not been precisely
defined. From the outset, the future of the project was significantly affected by the decision to
divide it into two phases with no visibility of the second phase, the timetable, financing and
final amount of which have not yet been defined. Great uncertainty now surrounds completion
of the real estate project. Its scientific dimension, which has never been clarified, is struggling
to emerge and to give it meaning beyond the real estate services it provides to its members.
The Ministry, which has long been on the sidelines in terms of the project
s strategic direction,
must now define its expectations regarding the nature of the project and its model, or else risk
getting bogged down despite the significant resources and efforts already made.
A project born of from a need for space and from of financial and real
estate opportunities
The project was born out of a need for space in the Île-de-France region. Initially financed
through the 2007-2013 State-Region planning contract, the interest of a non-expendable
of €450 million
was allocated to it following its selection in the second wave of the Plan
Campus in February 2009, and it is the only operation in this Plan aimed at creating an entirely
new campus. Decisions taken at the beginning of the project, such as the splitting of the project
into two phases, of which only the first phase has been financed to date, will have decisive
consequences in the long term.
On the Aubervilliers site, the objectives of the first phase in terms of creation of surface
have been achieved, to the satisfaction of the first users of the Campus. It opened in
September 2019, despite the consequences of the health crisis which hit it hard, limited the
use of shared facilities and slowed down the development of campus life.
The financial cost of resorting to the public/private partnership agreement, made
compulsory within the framework of the Plan Campus, was contained due to the favourable
rates during the period and the loan from the European Investment Bank. However,
management of the partnership agreement has been difficult since the delivery of the buildings,
According to the
operation campus
agreement published in the Official Journal of the French Republic on 31
July 2021, these are non-consumable funds, giving the right to remuneration.
with many disagreements over the reservations to be cleared and penalties to be applied. The
transition to the operational phase obliges the institution to begin its transformation towards a
managerial mission, while ensuring project management of the La Chapelle site and
undertaking that of the EPHE headquarters.
The division of the project between several project owners and operation blocks has led
to a desynchronisation of the worksites, resulting in a partial opening in September 2019. While
the contribution of local government authorities has provided decisive funding, the overall costs
have not yet been assessed. The Court estimates the construction and support costs of the
project at €515 million for the first phase, including the La Chapelle university centre.
Planned from the outset of the project, the future La Chapelle university centre, currently
under construction, is expected to accommodate undergraduate students from the University
of Paris 1. Although the functional links between the two sites are particularly tenuous,
returning management of the site to Paris 1 at the end of the works, in 2025, should help to
clarify the roles and limit the levels of administration.
An achievement that remains incomplete
While almost all the shared facilities were constructed in phase 1, only 45% of the space
allocated to researchers was built. There is a great risk that these facilities, in particular the
Grand Équipement Documentaire
(GED) documentary facility, will be oversized. The original
programme for phase 2, estimated at €201
million excluding tax in 2011, has not yet been
finalised beyond the expression of a ten-year-old need for space. As a result, the conditions of
the relocation of two institutions, the
École des Hautes études en Sciences sociales and The
Fondation maison des sciences de l
, the financing of which was not included in the
framework of the State-Region planning contract negotiations, is still under consideration.
However, an analysis of the EPCC
s resources shows that funding is available, with the
constitution of savings evaluated on average at €5
million per year from the interest of the
non-expendable grant a
nd an available cash flow of €41
million at the end of 2021.
The real estate project has emerged around a governance centred on the member
institutions and the search for consensus between them, but without any real
affectio societatis
thus far. Although large parts of the scientific activity were initially intended to be pooled, only
the resources of the
Grand Équipement Documentaire
have been, and then only partially and
with difficulty. As a result, Campus Condorcet is seeking to become a full-fledged institution
with more resources to consolidate its fragile management. This situation creates a risk of a
drift in payroll costs and redundancy of resources with those of the institutions. As a public
sui generis
, with both real estate and scientific support missions, the EPCC does not
have a dedicated contact at the Ministry and has not yet been the subject of any establishment
However, the agency
s financial management must absolutely be strengthened. The
EPCC finds it difficult to report on the use of all its resources (recovery plan, non-expendable
grant, etc.). The financial monitoring of the public/private partnership agreement is insufficient.
The terms of the institutions
financial contribution, dispersed in four different agreements with
very complex distribution keys, are no longer supported by the institutions and need to be
reviewed, even though the increase in surface area generates costs for them that are much
greater than the savings made by the release of occupied surface area in Paris. These
shortcomings create a form of mistrust among the representatives of Campus Condorcet.
Opening of the GED under tough conditions, conveying unclear
scientific expectations
Grand Équipement Documentaire
has risen expectations of the scientific
communities, which have had to divest themselves of their research funds in order to pool
them. The project, which was intended to be innovative, centred on physical access to rare
documentation, also had to stand out in terms of digital services and research support. The
numerous difficulties linked to the provision of staff from the institutions, a principle that was
put forward at the start of the project but that has not been formalised in writing since, have
helped to concentrate efforts on preparing the opening of the
Grand Équipement Documentaire
documentary facility two years later than the rest of the Campus and under tough conditions. .
The facility was thus commissioned in November 2021, with planned opening times of two
days a week initially (now five days a week), with limited opening time, instead of permanent
opening, and with a volume of 500,000 works instead of one million.
However, the initial project, as presented in 2009, had strong ambitions in terms of
scientific pooling, which have since been abandoned. Given the complexity of the real estate
project and the lack of a framework to encourage the pooling of resources and projects, the
scientific dimension has remained in the background.
In 2018, the Ministry required Campus Condorcet to draw up a scientific project as a
precondition for the second phase. This situation has put the institution in a quandary, as the
functioning of its governance is based on consensus between member institutions and its
missions do not give it the authority to coordinate the scientific policies of these institutions.
The new provisions introduced by the Research Programming Law of 24 December 2020, by
entrusting it with the coordination of scientific programmes bringing together all or some of the
institutions, do not clarify the situation. The EPCC
s failure to win the
Excellence in all its
call for projects of the Future Investment Programme (PIA 4) reflects the situation in
which it finds itself.
In this context, it is first and foremost important that the Campus fulfils its scientific
support missions, which are still in their infancy at this stage in the context of the difficulties
encountered by the GED. It is then necessary to define the national missions performed by the
Campus, which was initially intended to drive the revival of humanities and social sciences in
France, and certain aspects of which (publishing project, GED, etc.) are intended to extend
beyond the circle of its members.
Relations with the State and member institutions to be rebuilt on the
basis of the new multiyear contract
The Campus Condorcet project is flawed by its original lack of definition, which has led
it to stalemate in the face of institutions involved in other groupings and with little incentive to
relinquish their resources for the benefit of an institution whose financial functioning remains
obscure. At this stage, it is up to the Ministry to define the State
s expectations of Campus
Condorcet in terms of scientific ambition, and to specify its modus operandi in line with this.
The new multiyear contract, provided for in the Research Programming Law, is thus an
opportunity to formalise the reciprocal commitments of the State, the EPCC and its member
institutions. It is important to seize this opportunity and breathe new life into the project, which
has been weakened by the difficulties of the scientific project.
Campus Condorcet was built around a real estate project, coupled with an ambition for
humanities and social sciences that has not been translated into a scientific project. The
financial volumes involved
million for the first phase and an estimated €200
million for
the second
are considerable, especially given the risk of having constructed buildings without
a project and without unified governance. In the absence of a clear strategy, without defined
and stated scientific expectations and without coherent management, Campus Condorcet is
finding it very difficult to function and carry out its missions. The definition of the place and role
of Campus Condorcet by the State is now necessary to avoid failure of this project, which
would be a severe blow for humanities and social sciences in France.
The members of Établissement Public Campus Condorcet
According to Decree No. 2017-1831 of 28 December 2017, modified by Decree No. 2021-1315
of 8 October 2021 relating to the Établissement Public Campus Condorcet, the members are: the
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
(CNRS), the
École des Hautes Études en Sciences
(EHESS), the
École Nationale des Chartes
(ENC), the
École Pratique des Hautes Études
(EPHE), the
Fondation Maison des Sciences de l
(FMSH), the
Institut National d
(INED), the University of Paris 1, the University of Paris 3, the University of Paris 8,
the University of Paris 10 and the University of Paris 13.
Location of the two sites in Aubervilliers and Paris
and the Aubervilliers-Phase 1 campus
Sources: Court of Accounts based on:
- Left plan: Volume 1
Functional Programme, 2016
- Right plan: 2017 Activity Report, Campus Condorcet
The main stages of the Campus Condorcet project
Source: Court of Accounts based on documents provided by the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation
and by the Établissement Public Campus Condorcet
Summary of recommendations
Entrust management of the La Chapelle site to the University of Paris 1 at the end of the works,
scheduled for 2024 at the earliest (
MESRI, EPCC, University of Paris 1
Consolidate the EPCC
s real estate function as a matter of urgency by providing it with the
necessary tools, first and foremost a multiyear real estate strategy plan (SPSI) covering the
second phase, and ensure its regular monitoring (
MESRI, EPCC, member institutions
Justify the destination of the public establishment
s resources to the founding members and
draw up regular reports on the use of the resources allocated to properly inform the board of
directors (
Draw up an IT master plan guaranteeing the interoperability of the research information
systems of the member institutions and strengthening the approach to information system
security, which presupposes the appointment of a leader in the near future (
EPCC, member
Put the
Grand Équipement Documentaire
(GED) documentary facility in a position to operate
as planned in continuous service, in particular by immediately transferring or recruiting the staff
necessary for its proper operation (
MESRI, EPCC, member institutions
Define the programme for the second phase of Campus Condorcet, taking into account the
need to make the shared facilities already built profitable, in particular by re-examining the use
of the financial margins available on the interest of the non-expendable grant (
Specify the national missions in the field of scientific documentation and publishing expected
of the Condorcet public agency and integrate them into the subsidy for public service allocated
to the EPCC (
Sign a contract of objectives and means that specifies the mission of Campus Condorcet;
include it in each contract entered into with the member institutions (
Define the place and role of Campus Condorcet in humanities and social sciences at national
level (
) in light of the project
s evolution.