The French National Centre for Scientific Research (Centre national de la recherche scientifique or CNRS) is the largest governmental research organisation in France and the largest fundamental science agency in Europe.
It involves 26,000 permanent employees (researchers, engineers, and administrative staff) and 4,000 temporary workers.
The CNRS has six divisions, or in French, départements scientifiques. The core divisions are:
Transversal divisions, in which researchers are also associated with one of the core divisions, are:
The National Commission for Scientific Research (CN), which is in charge of the recruitment and evaluation of researchers, maintains a parallel division of scientific endeavor into 47 sections. Research groups belong to one or more departments; the researchers themselves belong to one section.
For administrative purposes, CNRS includes 18 regional divisions (including four just for the region of Paris).
CNRS runs its research units either independently or in association with other institutions, including those in higher education. (In French these units are called laboratoires informally and unités de recherche in administrative parlance. The research groups are either operated solely by CNRS (and then known as unités propres de recherche or UPR) or as mixed organizations (unités mixtes de recherche or UMR). Each research unit has a unique numeric code attached and is headed by a director (typically, a university professor or CNRS research director).
Currently CNRS researchers are active in 1,256 research groups, 85 percent of which are jointly run and also include non-CNRS researchers. The prevalence of such "mixed" research groups is an unusual characteristic of the French system. This mixing may hinder those outside the French higher education system from properly attributing works, since each laboratory may have many different names (UMR code, full name, acronym, CNRS address, university address, department inside university address).
The headquarters of CNRS are in the Campus Gérard Mégie, rue Michel-Ange, in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. )
Researchers who are members of CNRS are classified in two categories, in order of seniority:
Theoretically, research directors may head research groups, but this is not a general rule.
All permanent employees (research engineers, technical and administrative personnel) are recruited through annual nationwide competitive campaigns. The candidates selected have the status of civil servants and are part of the fonction publique.
The centre was created on 19 October 1939 by decree of President Albert Lebrun. Since 1954, the centre has annually awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals to French scientists and junior researchers. In 1966, the organisation underwent structural changes, which resulted in the creation of two specialised institutes: the National Astronomy and Geophysics Institute in 1967, which became the National Institute of Sciences of the Universe (INSU) in 1985, and the National Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics (IN2P3) in 1971.
The performance of CNRS has been brought into question, with calls for wide-ranging reforms. In particular, the effectiveness of the recruitment, compensation, career management, and evaluation procedures were under scrutiny. Governmental projects include the transformation of CNRS into an organ allocating support to research projects on an ad hoc basis, and the reallocation of the CNRS researchers to the universities. Another controversial plan advanced by the government involves breaking up CNRS into six separate institutes.