The resolution of a major crisis, such as the one we are experiencing, depends first and foremost on the relevance of the decisions taken in the emergency to try to resolve it. And today, only one decision is necessary: vaccinate and treat; as well as possible; as quickly as possible. And we are very, very far from doing everything necessary to achieve this.
Such a crisis is also the moment when the talents and characters able of managing it emerge, or not. And we haven’t seen much of that emerging in the last year around the world.
Talents that are sorely lacking are not only the men and women of action needed to manage states and companies in these difficult times. It is also, and perhaps above all, the doctors, the health workers, the researchers, the innovators, the engineers, without whom no crisis of this kind can ever be resolved.
It is not enough to train these talents, they must be allowed to grow and participate in the success of the community that has allowed them to flourish. In France, this crisis reveals that we are very far from this today: our engineering schools mainly train investment bankers, and the all too rare researchers, high-level engineers or artificial intelligence specialists who graduate from them are attracted by the high salaries and formidable career prospects offered to them by American or German companies.
And I am enraged to see with what naivety, what blindness, what suicidal pretension, the leaders of our universities boast of their so-called successes, which are only appearances, because they are not part of an overall vision of the careers of their students.
There are countless examples. Just three: Yann Le Cunn, trained in Paris at Pierre et Marie Curie University, became Facebook’s Chief Scientist in Artificial Intelligence; Emmanuelle Charpentier, also trained at Pierre et Marie Curie University, who, having been unable to find the means to work in France, found them in Germany, and obtained her Nobel Prize in Chemistry there; Stephane Bancel, an engineer from the Ecole Centrale in Paris, who was unable to find sufficient resources in France to develop what became Moderna and left for Boston to develop one of the most formidable health companies of the beginning of the century.
To replace all this talent, which has gone to enrich countries richer than France, we are bringing in some of the all too rare talent from the countries of the South, leaving these countries with no other recourse than to beg for assistance from NGOs or international organisations.
Tomorrow, it will be even worse: our best engineers will also be attracted by laboratories and companies in Asia, which will also offer them salaries and working conditions superior to those they can expect in France. And these countries, after having sent their students to us for training, will in turn open “grandes écoles”, attracting our professors and our students; we will have nothing left.
It’s easy enough to understand: we see every day that money, fluid and moving, goes to money, where it can prosper. Talent is, by nature, as nomadic as money: like money, it is free, independent, capricious, selfish. Like money, if it cannot be held back, it will go where it finds its greatest interest, where it can seek, find, and obtain fame and/or fortune.
In the immense concentration of wealth underway, the concentration of talent, the ultimate wealth, will be the worst, the most dangerous in the long term. In particular, Europe, the cradle of the first universities, plundered of its talents will be one of its main victims.
It is time to react. Our future depends entirely on our industry, and on the innovations that we will be able to make it prosper. And therefore on the talent that will drive it.
To succeed, we must treat our best young engineers and researchers with all the attention they deserve, as the British, Germans, Americans, Chinese, Israelis and many others do. And to do this, we must decide to devote much more resources to public laboratories and to the companies that these young people want to launch. And we will soon be able to judge whether they deserve our support over the long term.
People will say that we don’t have enough money for this, that we have already spent too much, that our debt is abysmal, that our taxes are the highest in the world. All this is true. The fact remains that if we do not do everything to keep and develop the talent we train, if we delay putting in place a global and systematic plan to support the careers of our engineers and researchers, we will never have the means to repay these debts; and ruin will come very quickly.