The effective transfer of technology from universities and research institutes to businesses is vital for stimulating local economic development. A key aspect of this is the mobility of highly qualified researchers between countries and regions. This brings benefits to the individual, the research community and the economy.
To stimulate this mobility, funding from the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions COFUND programme is helping to attract talented researchers to Brussels and the region of Wallonia, Belgium.
Eighty-five researchers are now engaged in the two projects from more than 30 countries, including European nations, the US, China, India, Australia and Chile.
“Some researchers at the end of their fellowships have become permanently employed in research units, both in Wallonia and abroad, and some have successfully obtained funding for research projects through other frameworks,” says project coordinator Pierre Demoitié of the Walloon Public Service, Belgium. “Many scientific articles in refereed journals have been published.”
Fellowships have been awarded in diverse areas, such as aeronautics and space, agro-food, biotechnology and life sciences, mechanical engineering and sustainable chemistry and materials, in line with the key thematic areas for growth in Wallonia’s smart specialisation strategy. Demoitié also stresses the multi-sectorial nature of the research and the popularity of this approach, which may lead to an extension of the project actions.
“I see here three elements,” explains Demoitié. “The first is attracting qualified investigators by offering them international experience within a university, in close collaboration with an SME. Secondly, it promotes research likely to have a positive impact on economic and social development and job creation in Wallonia and, thirdly, the programme enables the partner company to access valuable scientific and technological expertise. Such a formula did not exist before in Wallonia. It’s really a first.”
EU funding is channelled through two complementary parts of Wallonia’s BEWARE fellowship programme. BEWARE Academia is co-funded by the Technology Transfer Fellowships project and the closely related BEWARE Industry by the Marshall Fellowships project.
Researchers participating in the BEWARE fellowships are becoming “ambassadors for Wallonia”, enhancing the visibility of research programmes in Wallonia at the global level and helping establish long-term international collaborations.
“The mobility of researchers represents a significant added value, both for the researchers themselves, in terms of career development, acquisition of knowledge and skills, and for the host universities, where it opens up new opportunities for collaboration,” says Demoitié.
The Technology Transfer Fellowships project enables visiting researchers to work at a French-speaking university in Belgium, spending 25 % of their time at a Walloon company, to help identify and valorise research of potential economic importance. The project team matched researchers with a supervisor at one of seven universities and a second supervisor from the private sector.
Recipients of the three-year fellowships can be of any nationality but must have a PhD or at least four years of research experience, be able to demonstrate an innovative aspect to their research or an ability in technology transfer, and not have spent more than 12 months in Belgium during the previous three years.