The application by Bio4Energy researchers to start a research training UlrikaRova 612Bio4Energy scientist Ulrika Rova after a Shift2Bio work meeting at Luleå University of Technology, Sweden, in June. Photo by Bio4Energy.
programme for PhD students under the ERASMUS Mundus Joint
Doctorates (EMJD) scheme has not been granted, according to a letter forwarded to coordinators of the proposed Shift2Bio graduate school.

The letter dated 19 July from the European Union agency administering the scheme, the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA), gave good marks to the structure and content of the Shift2Bio programme on innovative uses of biomass. However, an attached assessment by academic experts of the project proposal pointed to holes in the work plan and budget, something which would have led the EACEA to give the latter a collective weak mark.

This, however, did not stop the academic experts from praising the proposed Shift2Bio project for its academic and industrial relevance and recognising its “unique” character. The teaching and training in Shift2Bio would have covered the entire biorefinery value chain of forest-sourced products and organic waste, fostered innovation and included cooperation by an extensive range of industrial and consultancy actors offering to open up their research and demonstration facilities to programme students.

“A challenging programme in the field of sustainable use of biomass with translational potential is proposed. The objectives are detailed with clarity and focus, and the needs analysis justifies the offer of such a programme, highlighting its importance in a newly emerging field and taking into account its socioeconomic impact”, the expert assessment said;

“The training programme is clear and well-articulated with a good balance between training and research. The innovative aspects are substantiated by the multidisciplinary approach of the programme.

“The programme may significantly contribute to European excellence and increase the competitiveness of European industry”.

Tough competition

The proposed Shift2Bio graduate school was to have been run by a consortium of eight European universities and assisted by 28 associated partners from industry, consultancy firms or institutions offering academic training, coordinated from Luleå University of Technology (LTU)  in northern Sweden.

However, it competed with 132 other applicants, of which nine were selected for funding and listed on the EACEA website. This brought the total number of current EMJD grantees to 43, according to the same website.

Shift2Bio head coordinator This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. said the experts’ criticism had mainly to do with the fact that the consortium had not provided detailed plans for the joint administration of presumptive PhD students’ application and selection. Provisions for the evaluation of the overall programme might also have been more explicit and alternative routes of funding highlighted.

“(T)his is something we have to take on board… Now we will want to analyse the outcome (of the EMJD selection procedure) in more detail”, said Rova.

“Overall our graduate school has received a very good appraisal. The innovation aspect received good marks, (just as) the needs analysis… Innovation is central to Bio4Energy’s activities”.

Next steps would be to kick-start the work on a less encompassing graduate school for PhD students currently in Bio4Energy and to start looking for alternative sources of funding: “Our graduate school will be based on the work that has been done”, she said, adding;

“Of course we are disappointed… We felt our programme concept was good. But there was tough competition. We are sad but we will be even sadder if the work we have been putting into this does not come to use. If we take on board the criticism and respond to it constructively, there will be new possibilities”.

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