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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

Training for and via research: a major challenge for the MS2T Programme

The Labex MS2T programme has committed itself deeply to training aspects, creating a Master’s degree that had a direct connexion with its research programme. The plan envisaged today is to open up a University Engineering School of Research on Systems of Systems (SoS).

 

 

As is the case for all certified « Excellence » laboratories, MS2T trains PhD students. Ever since it was created, 28 PhD theses have been financed, often with co-supervisors from two different specialties and increasingly now ‘followed’ or even co-supervised by a foreign academic, for the purpose of enriching the PhD students’ international vistas. More unusual: as of 2012, UTC launched a Master’s degree based on the Labex, entitled ‘Master of Complex System Engineering (UTC-ISC).

This course, based on the same model as in the composition of the MS2T teams , i.e., pluridisciplinary, with students admitted from different majors (computer sciences and applications, mechanical engineering, biology…) who first follow a core programme and then have a choice among 5 specialties with a direct link to ongoing Labex research activities: “Learning and Optimization in Complex Systems”, “Automation and control, Robotics and Smart Systems”, “Biomechanics and Bio-engineering”, “Mechatronic Systems” and “Complex Mechanical Structures and Systems”.

“Bearing in mind the fact that UTC does not deliver a first degree (Bachelor or ‘licence’)”, recalls Dritan Nace, Head of the ISC Master’s degree, “the first year (M1) student intake, no more than 15 to 20 per year, come from other universities. But in contradistinction, in second year (M2), there are between 50 and 60 direct admissions, given that graduates from the French engineering school system (the grandes écoles and some universities), or again students who have another Master’s degree can apply, this representing the majority of the applications we receive for our ISC course. Our aim is to increase even more the number of admissions to year M2”.

Every year, the Labex financially supports some 10 “excellence” grants and internships in one of its laboratories, addressing ISC Master’s degree students. “The challenge we faced when we launched this course was to attract the best possible candidates and, above all, students interested in research activities”, recalls Prof. Philippe Bonnifait, Director of the UTC-Heudiasyc Lab. and former Head of the Master’s degree, adding “Indeed this is the situation today: approximately one half of the graduates of a given class opt to pursue to a PhD.”

Another specific feature of this degree is its open vista for international affairs. The students from the Lebanese University (https://www.ul.edu.lb) have been authorized to follow some of the course specialties: lectures can be viewed by visio-conference or given by UTC visiting lecturers in Beirut, Lebanon. Moreover, since 2016, UTC and the University of Genoa (Italy)(https://www.unige.it/en/) co-organize a European Master’s degree, entitled European Master Engineering for Complex and Interacting Systems (Emecis), that brings together students of the French ISC Master’s degree and its Genoan counterpart (see box).

 

The next target

UTC entertains the ambition today – given the elements already in place – to access a new provision of the Government’s “Investments for the Future” incentive, viz., the European Universities of Research (EUR), designed to promote the international visibility of French universities. The model that inspires this drive is that of the well-known and highly reputed Graduate Schools and these EURs must interweave teaching and research, proposing both Master’s degree and PhD level training with the support of (one or) several high level laboratories, with a high international repute and, as far as possible, with close links to external socio-economic, business agents. “With this Labex and its technology-intensive research, UTC is genetically equipped to set up an EUR on Systems of Systems (SoS), which would not only integrate students taking the ISC Master’s degree but also a fair fraction of our student-engineers”, stresses Prof. Bonnifait, “the reason being that a systemic approach can be applied largely to the specialties we offer at UTC”.

In 2017, the French National Research Agency (ANR) launched a call for projects to certify the first EURs created. UTC, in responding to the call, proposed an “excellence” curriculum liked to the 4 scientific priorities of MS2T, with an open international vista, common to both students registered for the Master’s degree and to student engineers in 3 of the UTC majors: computer sciences and their applications, bio-engineering and mechanical engineering.

“Out of 195 establishments candidates registered in that call, only 25 were classified A+”, explains Professor Ali Charara, Director of the Labex. “Our proposal was not among the 25, but nonetheless qualified with an A assessment, which we found most encouraging and we had the only A in our Region, Hauts-de-France. We shall consequently restudy, reframe our proposal for the next round. Prof. Philippe Courtier, President and Vice-Chancellor of UTC and the UTC Executive Board have expressed their full support for this institutional project”.

The challenge is all the more important that UTC – for the purpose of better forearming its student engineers faced with the increasing need for innovation expressed by the corporate world – wishes to make them more aware of research possibilities and to increase the numbers of those who decide to pursue to PhD level in one of UTC’s labs or elsewhere. Moreover, in order to develop in-house research, UTC intends to build up its stock of PhD students. This label: EUR ‘European University of Research’ and the associate funding, would contribute to attaining the objectives.