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Moving in the direction of a “European Industrial PhD”

The European Commission will soon be instating a European Industrial PhD. The objective is to reinforce the links between universities and enterprise and facilitate the professional insertion of young research scientists. Below are some of the questions we addressed to Vanessa DEBIAZIS-SAINTON, Project Manager at the Directorate General for Education and Culture at the European Commission (EC).

Moving in the direction of a “European Industrial PhD”

The European Commission would like to see Europe become an innovative space for its research scientists. How is the EC going to go about this?

Through the so-called “Marie Curie” initiative, Europe has always sought to develop the training possibilities through research and to improve the prospects for its research scientists to find job openings in the Member States throughout their careers. Programmes were therefore set up to stimulate inter-sectorial mobility, increased sharing of knowledge through reach partnerships and to attract to Europe talented non-European research scientists. New initiatives will soon be launched specifically in the area of doctoral training courses. One of these is to create a European Industrial PhD, and the first calls for proposals will be posted by July of this year. Some 20 M euros will be devoted to this initiative.

What exactly then is the European Industrial PhD?

Several European studies have demonstrated that there is a lack of links between research scientists and enterprise in general and more generally still, a lack of knowledge about the private by the doctoral students themselves. Often doctors are criticised for being excellent when it comes to publications and far from excellent in terms of patents lodged. This criticism is all the more applicable to France where, strange as it may seem, there is an opposition where engineers are seen as being distinct from the PhD graduates from University. Faced with this distinction, two questions naturally come to mind: what should or should not be included in a doctoral course? And what are the real needs for the future? One answer comes up immediately: the training courses must simultaneously be international in flavour, interdisciplinary in scope and inter-sectorial in its applications. The idea the arose that we could propose that an enterprise and a university, both from different EC countries could work together on a joint project, carried and co-ordinated by a doctoral student. Thereby students receive both training in their university and/or research establishment and in the enterprise abroad would be free to organise how to divide time and efforts between then two. The only obligation for the students would be to spend at least 50% of their time in enterprise.

Is this similar in concept to the French CIFRE programme?

Yes, indeed. The new training course can be compared with the CIFRE thesis in France or to the Industrial PhD that already exists in Denmark, given that what we are seeing, above all other considerations is the employability of the students when they become doctors. Research scientists today when thinking about career paths either in the public or private sectors must be capable of interacting efficiently between these two worlds, in terms of finding funding to better exploit and value add to the results of their research. The European Industrial PhD offers young scientists at the start of their theses what must be seen as unique opportunities to acquire competences in entrepreneurship and in communication, in foreign languages, business management, you name it … At the same time, the impact for the enterprise that hires these students is real: it improves competitivity, increases the potential for innovation and to the extent that the enterprise can access very high level techniques and knowledge, and thus recruit equally high-level talented persons.

What is the real added value of this particular PhD compared with those that exist?

Definitely so and the answer is the European dimension. If I were an enterprise or a French university, and I wanted to develop a partnership with another enterprise of a University in England. Today, I cannot find any funds for my project. The European Industrial PhD will fill the gap. Moreover, the doctoral student will have the possibility to work in international teams and will be able to draw advantage from the cultural difference between the English and the French. Generally speaking, we hope, through this innovating training course will prove more competitive or at least on a par with respect to PhDs in the USA and in this way Europe will prove more attractive for research scientists, and will contribute in this way to prevent brain-rain from Europe.