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46: The UTC MS2T Labex* A recognised dynamic ‘excellence’ lab., to be fostered, long-term

UTC is host to and supports one of the 171 so-called Labex (see below) entities certified in the French Government’s Investments for the Future incentive Programme (2010). These sites are designated as bridgeheads for “excellence’ in French scientific and technological research, HE and valorisation activities, aimed at generally enhancing their international visibility and repute. This issue’s Dossier zooms in on the underlying challenges and main positive results and fallout.

46: The UTC MS2T Labex* A recognised dynamic ‘excellence’ lab., to be fostered, long-term

When the French State authorities launched the ‘Excellence’ Laboratories Programme (acronym Labex), the stated objective was ambitious: to provide and endow the laboratories chosen for having an already proven international reputation, with significant means enabling them to operate on a par with foreign counterparts, to attract the best research scientists and lecturers and to establish new high level research, training and valorisation policies. In 2011 and 2012, following the assessment conclusion of an international jury, 171 entities whose profiles and project policy statements complied with the above prerequisites, were duly certifies as Labex and were accordingly notified that they would receive 1.5 billion euros over a 10 year period(on average this meant close to 9 Meuros for each Labex. “Each entity therefore has a long range perspective as to it finance and can consequently develop a true scientific policy set of objectives and even take risks on some exploratory work and themes”, underlines Yves Lecointe, who is in charge of the Labex programmes at the French national research agency (ANR*).

An official assessment took place mid-programme, in 2015, serving to demonstrate how this programme can be of interest. Globally framed, the international jury who did the assessment deemed the Labex programme “on one hand, a really successful operation, focused on excellence ion French research and, on the other, offering the scientific community a flexible tool with enhanced freedom in terms of long-term organization”**

The jury also concluded that these certified Labex units had a “restructuring effect on the landscape of French research”, underlining in particular the strong interdisciplinary facets and the development of networking which had a « “largely positive impact on the emergence in France of cutting-edge thematics at world class level and on the policies of research topic choices”.

Significant facts & figures

The interim assessment of the indicator value on Labex entities over the period 2011-2016 published end 2017 by ANR confirm the impulse on French research activities, contributing to international reputation and to student training. In just 6 years, the Labex have multiplied the annual number of their publications by a factor 2½ and authorized commencement on nearly 3 400 theses. One signal feature of their intrinsic attractiveness, the number of PhD students registered with the Labex has increased by almost 80% whereas the national population of PhD students continues to decrease. “Attractiveness here can also be measured on an international scale”, notes Yves Lecointe. “France traditionally attracts a large contingent of foreign PhD students, but significantly less at Post Doc level. Nearly one half of the post-docs recruited by the Labex entities between 2011 and 2016 were foreigners”.

In terms of training activities, the impact of the Labex exceeds that for the PhD students. The number of Master’s degree students that benefit from Labex training packages (lectures, external initiations, internships …, remained limited and variable up to 2015. But in 2016, the figure literally took off, increasing from 15 000 to over 54 700, i.e., 10% of the total number of students in Master degree courses in France. Final point of note: between 2011 and 2016, the Labex entities registered 1 042 patent claims and created 2 390 start-ups, 80% of which are already engaged in business activities.

The initial plan was to support financially the Labex up to termination date, December 2019 with the provision that any outstanding sums not used by that date would be recovered by the issuing authorities. A recent decision has extended the deadline date to Dec.31, 2022. This was important for the recruitment of PhD students – a flow that would have dwindled as of end 2016 since thesis work classically runs for 3 years. But in addition to this, various arrangements will ensure financial support for those Labex that perform well beyond 2019 and this will enable the “dynamics” of the system to be upheld. n

 

* Investissements d’avenir - Laboratoires d’excellence [investments for the future] synthetic assessment reports 2011-2016, ANR, December 2017.

** Source: Laboratoires d’excellence - Synthèse des rapports des 15 sous-jurys du point d’étape de juin 2015 [French ‘Excellence’ Laboratories synthetic mid-term assessments by 15 sub-juries], ANR, October 2015