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France's Pacific ambition

The French University of the Pacific, split between two sites nearly 5,000 kilometres apart, is to become two establishments in a move that will bring greater freedom from French control.

The French government, on the other hand, intends the move to strengthen France's influence in the Pacific.

Announcing the decision last week, education minister Claude All gre and Jean-Jack Queyranne, secretary of state in charge of France's overseas territories, said they would be showcases for French education and research.

Created in 1987, the university is sited in Papeete, capital of Tahiti, French Polynesia, and Noumea, the main town of New Caledonia. While it comes under the French ministry of education, until now it has been administered slightly differently from universities in mainland France; its president has been appointed, not elected by university councils.

Under the new arrangement, the two universities will have the same independence as those on the mainland, with elected presidents.

Some 2,698 students attend the UFP, the majority studying first degrees and more than half go to Tahiti. Subjects offered include law, political and social sciences, literature, languages, economic and social administration, science of matter and life sciences.

The decision to create the new universities is part of French policy on the evolving status of its overseas territories, especially New Caledonia, the political leaders of which have recently signed an agreement to allow them greater autonomy.

Mr All gre said that a centre of research into nickel would be set up in Noumea to work in liaison with the School of Mines in Nancy and the Geological and Mining Research Office.

Mr Queyranne said it was hoped to attract more foreign students to the universities and to achieve "a greater intellectual presence of France in the Pacific".

The ministers stressed the importance of the two universities for France's influence internationally, especially given their proximity to Australia, New Zealand and Chile.

Many graduates from Papeete and Noumea continued their studies in these countries, developing links and cultural exchanges.

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