Like most other European institutes for advanced study (Berlin, Wassenaar, Uppsala, Budapest, etc.), the French IAS give priority to the humanities and social sciences in their invitation policies, while allowing extensive possibilities for interaction with other sciences (materials, physical and life sciences), as long as they do not require research laboratories. The activity of the IAS, based on giving priority to individual mobility, is thus consistent with some major European mobility programmes that are structured according to researchers’ career paths rather than to academic programmes, which are the prerogative of thematic operations. To pursue their academic policies on research, innovation and scientific renewal, the four French IAS have three common characteristics that designate the independence of the institutes as a fundamental value:
1. Each institute has an independent juridical existence, which gives it full autonomy of governance
The institutes have the legal form of not-for-profit associations (Lyon, Marseille, Paris) or foundations (since April 2008, the Nantes IAS has had the status of a foundation officially recognised as being in the public interest), and they are perfectly free to establish clear institutional and contractual relations with their partners, who may be local or regional authorities, institutions of higher education and research, or private-sector firms.
2. The institutes have full control over the definition and management of their academic projects
Each institute is managed by an internationally recognised scholar (see Appendix 1), either the person behind the creation of the institute (the jurist Alain Supiot for the Nantes IAS, the historian Robert Ilbert for the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Research in Marseille), or a prominent external scholar hired through an international call for applications (the linguist Alain Peyraube at the Collegium de Lyon, the archaeologist Alain Schnapp and the sociologist Patrice Duran appointed by the founding members of IAS-Paris, simultaneously with the establishment of an internationalsearch committee to recruit the director of IAS-Paris as from 2012). All of the institutes’ directors have international stature, openness to interdisciplinary research, experience in institutional development, and availability, and they enjoy a great deal of independence in conducting the affairs of each IAS throughout their terms of office.
The quality of the institutes’ selection procedures for fellows, marked by transparency, peer evaluation, and international, multidisciplinary scientific advisory boards, is regarded as a very important achievement of the French IAS since their creation. The scientific advisory boards of the four institutes represent considerable international expertise, bringing together some 60 high-level academics representing 32 disciplines (including 11 in the materials, physical and life sciences) and 23 nationalities (including 11 outside Europe). The international reputations of the chairs of the four scientific advisory boards (French sociologist Yves Grafmeyer in Lyon, Italian historian Giovanni Levi in Marseille, French Japanologist Jean-Noël Robert in Nantes and German historian Wolf Lepenies in Paris) give additional legitimacy to the selection processes used by the four institutes. The selection criteria are based on researchers’ academic excellence and intellectual innovation.
Owing to their high-quality and highly selective procedures, the four French IAS are rapidly becoming key players in the international mobility of scholars, in a context of intensifying competition on the global market for academic excellence.
3. The IAS have property assets of very high quality, allowing them to offer an exceptional working environment (in terms of space, scientific support, and documentary, administrative and logistic services) and the best conditions for sociability among researchers within the temporary, multi-disciplinary and international academic community and for contacts with eminent or promising French researchers.
The scientific and intellectual freedom that fellows enjoy during their stay enables the IAS to perform the function of an incubator and to create the conditions required for the emergence of the most innovative, and possibly unexpected, research work, avenues for research and collaborative arrangements.
This crucial aspect of the activity of the IAS requires in particular that buildings be constructed specifically for or dedicated to the institutes, offering individual and collective workspaces with nearby living quarters that are suitable for long stays. The four French institutes have resolutely set out to meet this need. In Nantes, for example, a contemporary building of 6,000 m2 was built to accommodate the premises of the IAS and those of the Maison des sciences de l’Homme Ange-Guépin. The building, inaugurated in October 2008, is located close by the living quarters, which were also built specifically for the occasion. In Marseille, the IMéRA occupies a large part of the former Marseille-Provence Astronomical Observatory, located in Parc Longchamp. The renovation of the premises, financed by a project contract between the central government and the region (contrat de projet État-région – CPER), will be completed in 2011. In 2013, IAS-Paris will occupy its new premises in the prestigious Hôtel de Lauzun-Pimodan on the Ile Saint-Louis, currently being renovated to meet the needs of contemporary research, and will have housing for fellows at the Maison Suger, a few hundred metres away. In Lyon, a high environmental quality fellows’ residence is under construction as part of a CPER (delivery in 2013); working spaces will be located in a building in the Ilot Saint Joseph area.
None of the IAS is restricted exclusively to the humanities and social sciences. Each institute attributes 10% to 30% of its fellowships to researchers in the exact sciences, particularly cognitive and life sciences, on the interface with the humanities and social sciences.