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< Contents ERCIM News No. 53, April 2003
Erna Hennicot-Schoepges, Luxembourg Minister for Culture, Higher Education and Research
Erna Hennicot-Schoepges, Luxembourg Minister for Culture, Higher Education and Research
The Luxembourg economy largely relies on high-level human resources. For the past 15 years, a great number of foreign talent have been attracted by a dynamic situation and business opportunities, in some of Luxembourg traditional fields: mainly financial sector and the associated computer industry, as well as specific technology and communication industries.

To further support the development of technological excellence in Luxembourg, it is essential to build a strong scientific and technological infrastructure that allows cooperation between private sector, higher education and research.

At the Barcelona European Council in 2002, the Heads of State and Government in Europe agreed that research and technological development investment in the European Union must be increased with the aim of approaching 3% of GDP by 2010, a goal to be achieved to a great extent through private sector funding. This goal is very ambitious. In Luxembourg, R&D investment (private and public combined) is currently at 1.8% of GDP - not bad, bearing in mind in this context that public research in Luxembourg is only 15 years old.

In 1999, we established the National Research Fund in order to give a new momentum to research. The National Research Fund was created to help focus R&D efforts in Luxembourg on a number of particularly promising areas and subjects.

These and all the other research programmes and activities in Luxembourg are of course only successful in such a small country because international cooperation has been given the highest priority.

The results of this approach are encouraging: Luxembourg researchers are more successful in gaining European funding, according to the recent European Union's Research Framework Programme. For example, in the Information Society Technology Programme, Luxembourg public research centres' success rate was 33% while European average was 25%.

The National Research Fund joined ERCIM in July 2002. Luxembourg's recent participation in ESA, ESF, EUROHORCS and plans to join EMBC and EMBL are making Luxembourg's research more visible for the international scientific community.

A successful research environment also relies on a good cooperation between higher education and research. A Parliamentary Act on the future development of the University of Luxembourg is at its final stages of preparation and cooperation agreements with Universities and research Centres in Europe and beyond are in preparation in order to establish joint academic curricula.

In this context, let me underline the creation of doctoral programmes of excellence. This initiative aims at meeting several of the challenges I previously referred to:

  • to develop high-level doctoral research in a few particular areas, identified as the backbone of current and future Luxembourg economy, among them ICT
  • to build a strong partnership between academic research and private sector
  • to strengthen international research cooperation
  • to propose real platforms for multi-disciplinary international research
  • to establish a flexible legal and institutional framework within the future University of Luxembourg.

ITC being particularly critical for the future development of higher education, research and economy, we recently launched a doctoral programme of excellence in this field, called 'LIASIT', Luxembourg International Advanced Studies in Information Technologies.

A survey conducted among Luxembourg companies potentially interested in doctoral research in the field of ITC shows a very high interest in this initiative. LIASIT programme therefore successfully started in September 2002. It currently employs five part-time professors. Nearly ten doctoral projects have been launched since September in close partnership with Luxembourg industries and European universities.

From an organisational point of view, thesis projects are co-financed by public grant and partner contribution. PhD students spend half of their time with the private partner research team and half of their time at LIASIT.

Several types of doctoral projects are emerging:

  • 'spin-off linked thesis' focuses on very specific opportunities with high-tech start-up companies involved in EU projects or consortia
  • 'industrial thesis' integrates PhD students in classical R&D teams and projects with Luxembourg main industrial and economic actors (eg in such fields as embedded software, signal processing, applied mathematics in finance sector,…)
  • 'innovation thesis' enables several companies or public bodies to access collective and shared research. Public transfer centres (Centres de Recherche Publics) play the role of integrators, coordinating these projects.

I am confident that this approach will pave the way for Luxembourg to be a strong partner in the European and international scientific community in the field of computer science and mathematics.