EUROPE: Young researchers must work with companies

A key EU programme for training young researchers now requires private sector involvement and also calls for recognition of training in non-academic institutions.

The Marie Curie Initial Training Networks (ITN) are aimed at improving the career perspectives of researchers who are in the first five years of their career. The networks offer structured training in defined scientific or technological areas, provide complementary skills and expose researchers to other sectors of society.

The just-published 2009 call for ITN proposals effectively makes industry participation in the networks mandatory, requiring "private sector involvement at the highest possible level appropriate to the research topic".

The ITN scheme is a highly competitive part of the European Union's 7th Framework for research. In the two first rounds, 68 projects were selected in 2007 and 92 in 2008 out of more than 900 applications in each year.

The networks involve, on average, nine institutions each, fund researchers for three to 36 months, and might include partners from third countries.

The evaluation and selection of the many strong proposals involving the best laboratories in Europe is a complex task, involving a large number of evaluators from both academia and from the private sector.

The change requiring more private sector involvement is a significant step toward greater inclusion of sectors outside academia in the training of young researchers in Europe. It is accompanied by a new clause which calls, where appropriate, for "mutual recognition by all partners of the training acquired, including training periods in the private sector". This will be a new step for many research universities and they will have to work out ways of including credit transfer from non-academic institutions in the curriculum of their doctoral degrees.

It will be possible for institutions applying for ITN funding to argue there are no relevant users of the knowledge being developed in certain academic fields. However, the main policy shift is clear: European universities will have to incorporate the private sector in these advanced training networks of young researchers in Europe.

The 2009 call for proposals is backed by EURO 244 million (US$359 million) - enough to cover about 100 networks. The deadline for applications is 22 December.

* Jan Petter Myklebust is deputy director of research at the University of Bergen.