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BIOTECH 2 (1994-1998)



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Training in Biotech (1994-1998)

General Overview    Courses   

Training opportunities in biotechnology at Community level:
a general overview of BIOTECH II

Since 1982, between 5% and 7% of the resources allocated to Community RTD programmes in Biotechnology have been earmarked to support training. Basically, applications for training grants (3 to 24 months) can be applied for by researchers who are citizens of a Member State of the European Union or of an Associated State and who wish to undertake, in a laboratory located within another European Union or Associated State, specific research in the field of Biotechnology. The host laboratory must not be situated in the applicant's country of nationality. In addition, applicants should not have carried out their normal activity in the country of their host laboratory for more than 18 months during the two years immediately prior to the date of submission of the application.

The choice of the host-laboratory lies with the applicant. It must however comply with the transnational mobility requirement defined above and be based upon criteria of scientific excellence and the capacity to provide all facilities needed. The following four types of grants were offered:

Senior level (category 30)

Applicants must be under 35 years of age (allowance will be made for military service and childcare) and hold a PhD (or equivalent level of education) or 4 years full time research activities at postgraduate level. The duration of the grant will be between 6 and 24 months. Their list of publications must contain a minimum of 3 publications, preferably as first author, published in international peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Junior level (category 20)

Applicants must hold a university (or equivalent institution of higher education) degree (minimum 4 years), and have no more than 4 years research experience afterwards. For this category, the CV should contain at least one publication accepted for an international peer-reviewed scientific journal. The duration of the grant will be between 6 and 24 months.

Grants for established researchers (category 40)

Researchers should have at least 8 years of full time research experience at postgraduate level. The duration of the grant will be between 3 and 12 months.

Return grants (category R)

Return grants were reserved for researchers who came from a less-favoured region who already had held a full two-years postdoctoral grant under this Programme and wished to return and undertake research in a less-favoured region in their own country. The return grants were intended to counteract the "brain-drain" from today's less-favoured regions.

The research areas covered by the BIOTECH II (1994-1998) programme were:

  • Microbial Physiology, Industrial Microbiology, Fermentation technology, Biotransformation, Downstream processing (the "cell factory");
  • Genome analysis (excluding human genome and model genomes applicable to the study of disease);
  • Plant and Animal Biotechnology;
  • Cell communication in Neurosciences (molecular underlying mechanisms);
  • Immunology and Transdisease Vaccinology (development of new vaccines);
  • Structural biology, Bio-electronics;
  • Pre-normative research, biodiversity;
  • Biotechnology infrastructures (bioinformatics, culture collections);
  • Biotechnology and society: ethical, social and legal aspects; public perception; socio-economic impacts.

A document with a detailed description of the areas covered was available from the Biotechnology Unit. However, it should be noted that in order not to limit the creativity and innovation of researchers, were considered eligible all training applications which proposed research even at the most fundamental level and not specifically mentioned among the research areas itemised in the programme as long as there were clear links to possible biotechnological applications, in line with the expectations of IRDAC (the Industrial Research and Development Advisory Committee) from the EU Biotechnology programme.

The proposals were evaluated by external referees on the basis of the scientific level of the candidate, the suitability of the host laboratory/scientific supervisor and the scientific quality of the project (see details in the relevant chapter).

Proposals (written according to instruction on the proper forms and completed with all the compulsory documents to be appended) were sent at any time during the implementation of the Programme. They were however assessed in batches 3 times per year on the following deadlines: 1 st March, 1 st July, 1 st November (in the frame of the BIOTECH II 1994-1998 programme the 1 st of July 1998 was the last opportunity).

Following the evaluation, selection and administrative procedures, successful candidates were normally in the position to start their research work 6-7 months after the deadline.

From BAP to BIOTECH II

Both the demand for EU training grants and the funding capacities of the different Biotechnology programmes have fluctuated over the years as shown in table I.

Table I : Key figures on past and present EU programmes in the field of biotechnology

Programme  Dates   Actual number of years open Number of applications Number of grants awarded Success rate
BAP + rev. (85-90) 4 647 377 58%
BRIDGE (90-93) 2 555 162 29%
BIOTECH I (92-96) 2 681 166 24%
BIOTECH II (94-98) 3 867 367 42%

The table in particular shows that we could not maintain over the years the same success rate. Several, often unpredictable, factors contributed to this situation: they range from the appearance / disappearance of alternative training programmes to the impact that national research budget variations have on the employment market. Another obviously very important factor, which affects the overall number of training grants that can be afforded in the frame of a programme, is their cost. In recent years two increases of costs had to be absorbed. In 1993, following a Council decision that ruled that EU trainees should be covered by regular working contracts with their host institutions and should therefore pay income taxes, the overall cost of individual training grants had to be increased in average by 52%. In 1995 for all the FP4 programmes it was decided to award to all host laboratories an amount of 10 000 ECU/year as bench fees.

Table II indicates the present costs of a 24 months training grant according to categories in the different countries entitled to host BIOTECH trainees.

Table II: Cost in ECU of a 24 months training grant

in (country) Category 20 Category 30
AUSTRIA 80 776 135 832
GERMANY 89 248 103 888
BELGIUM 119 248 149 248
DENMARK 110 656 132 544
SPAIN 59 344 105 184
FINLAND 94 072 120 880
FRANCE 85 648 111 880
GREECE 67 048 83 464
IRELAND 64 672 101 176
ITALY 64 240 89 752
LUXEMBOURG 94 864 125 344
THE NETHERLANDS 90 136 110 584
PORTUGAL 82 312 111 568
THE UNITED KINGDOM 53 824 91 624
SWEDEN 57 784 76 240
ICELAND 79 912 106 120
NORWAY 89 080 108 400
ISRAEL 53 412 74 412

The above amounts are all inclusive: they cover the gross salary of the trainee, the 10 000 ECU/year bench fees, the mobility allowance and the flat rate reimbursement of travel expenses.

The gross amounts have been set out by a special committee representing the Member States attached to the TMR programme with a view to roughly match after taxes in each country the net salary of national scientists with similar age / experience. The only supplementary income awarded to EU Trainees was the mobility allowance to compensate for additional costs associated to living for a relatively short period of time abroad.

The mobility allowance was fixed at 300 ECU/month for postgraduate grants (category 20) and at 400 ECU/month for postdoctoral grants (category 30); in the case of return grants there was no mobility allowance.

In the relevant Council decision on the BIOTECH II (1994-1998) R&D programme also in consideration of the relevant increase of the overall funding attributed the Ministers could take into due account the importance of community training for the future of this sector and earmarked up to 7% of the budget for this purpose. As a result throughout the entire programme it was possible to maintain our encouraging and to our opinion fair 50% success rate almost up the end of the programme. Just the two last deadlines show a lower success rate due to the great number of applications one the hand and the budget restrictions on the other (see table I).

Most recent trends

Some useful information can be gathered from the analysis of all 11 deadlines. The figures on applications submitted and finally selected and their subdivision by category for each of these deadlines is presented below in table III.

Table III : Success rate by subdivision

Deadline Applications Subdivision by category of selected candidates Total success rate Budget
(Mio ECU)
  Total submitted Total selected CAT 20 CAT 30 CAT 40 CAT R    
1 March 1995 28 16 4 12 -- -- 57% 1,532

1 July 1995

68 34 11 22 1 -- 50% 2,859
1 Nov. 1995 53 26 9 11 3 3 49% 1,849
1 March 1996 84 42 12 26 3 1 50% 3,302

1 July 1996

85 46 10 33 2 1 54% 3,970
1 Nov. 1996 61 29 8 20 -- 1 48% 2,475
1 March 1997 76 43 9 30 2 2 57% 3,577

1 July 1997

75 37 12 20 4 1 49% 2,873
1 Nov. 1997 47 24 3 18 1 2 51% 2,221
1 March 1998 113 46 14 28 4 -- 41% 3,843

1 July 1998

177 24 6 14 2 2 14% 2,066

92% of applications submitted are for CAT 20 (28%) and CAT 30 (64%) grants. While we know from the previous programmes that CAT 40 applications fluctuated between 5% and 10%, it has been 6% in the BIOTECH II (1994-1998) programme. For the first time "Return Grants" have been introduced and constitute the remaining 2% of submitted applications. Since return grants, as explained before, were open only to researchers from less favoured regions who wish to return there following a full two years CAT 30 fellowship only a few trainees were both eligible and interested to apply. For all 11 deadlines we have received 21 return grant applications of which 13 have been selected. Table III provides the success rate for each of the deadlines: the global value is 42% as also shown in table I. But what is the basic profile of successful applicants?

Table IV : Average age and number of publications of successfulcandidates

  Average age (years) Average number of publications

CAT 20

27,1 2,3

CAT 30

30,5 7,1

CAT 40

40,7 23,8

RETURN

33,1 12,2

While the data for CAT 40 and RETURN are based on a few cases and therefore might not be fully representative, the basic profile for CAT 20 and CAT 30 trainees, based on dozens of cases, is instead fully reliable. Looking at these data we can gather that, taking into account the initial pre-selection based on the willingness of host laboratories to propose possibly only the best qualified candidates and the strict minimal publications requirements, with an overall 42% success rate the population of BIOTECH trainees is highly qualified. Basically it consists of:

  • PhD students who were authors of a couple of papers (rarely as first author) and who were ready to spend 12 or, most often, 24 months abroad to complete their doctoral research work. Alternatively, but more rarely, under CAT 20 we funded fresh graduates who have published one paper and through a 24 months grant were offered the possibility to initiate a PhD abroad.
  • Postdoctoral fellows who have been very productive during their PhD having produced over half a dozen scientific articles (often as first author) and were looking for their first or second postdoctoral position.

The neighbouring programmes

In the field of life science there were other EU programmes in addition to BIOTECH that offered training grants. The training grants in all the EU programmes are basically managed according to the same rules (for instance salaries, obligations, etc.). The largest is the all encompassing TMR (Training and Mobility of Researchers) programme in the frame of which 3 000-4 000 were awarded over the 1994-1998 period covering all fields of exact, natural, economic and management sciences as well as those social and human sciences that contribute to the objectives of the 4 th Framework Programme. The TMR programme under its life science panel covered several areas very relevant to Biotechnology including molecular biophysics, biology and biochemistry, genomes and genetics, microbiology, cell biology, developmental biology and ... biotechnology as well. It provided therefore a very valid alternative to the BIOTECH programme for candidates who were planning to submit an application in this field. The choice was left to the applicant who had to take into account several practical considerations. For instance although TMR had a more unfavourable selection rate (see below) there were no minimal publications requirements. In the first 3 deadlines of the TMR programme 411 training grants have been awarded by the life sciences panel with a success rate of 22%; it should be noted that in compliance with the decision of the relevant CRN committee to apply for CAT 20 an upper ceiling of one fifth of the total budget available the success rate was much higher for CAT 30 (25%), RETURN (89%) than for CAT 20 (10%) training grants.

Closer to us, the two other programmes managed by the Life Science Directorate did not really constitute an alternative choice to BIOTECH for prospective applicants but they complemented it. Over the 1994-1998 period the Biomedicine and Health awarded some 200 training grants while some 400 were financed by the Agriculture and Fisheries programme. The areas covered by the BIOMED programme were:

  • Pharmaceuticals research;
  • research on biomedical technology and engineering;
  • brain research;
  • research on other diseases with major socio-economic impact: cancer, cardiovascular, AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases;
  • human genome research;
  • public health research, including health services research;
  • biomedical ethics.

For the agriculture and fisheries programmes the areas were:

  • integrated production and processing chains;
  • scaling-up processing methodologies;
  • generic science and advanced technologies for nutritious foods;
  • agriculture, forestry and rural development;
  • fisheries and aquaculture.

All these areas were described in more detail in the training grants information package allowing thus prospective candidates to make the appropriate choice. However, on those very limited topics where the frontier between BIOTECH and Biomedicine and Health and between BIOTECH and Agriculture and Fisheries could not be that easily identifiable prospective candidates could contact for advise the Commission services. In addition to the European Commission programmes several other international organizations offered training grants to work in another EU country. In this respect the training scheme run by the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) was the most relevant because closely connected to biotechnology and offering more than 150 training grants each year.

Conclusions

In the field of biotechnology to help the competitive capacities of European Industry and improve in general the quality of life there is a need to train young scientists in state of the art technologies/approaches which might not be accessible in their home countries. The EU training grants offer an opportunity not only to be trained in the most advanced European centers but also to gain a different, more open perspective, on how to tackle the global challenges of tomorrow. Biotechnology is a relatively recent field of research and things are still moving in Europe. There is a renewed interest for the establishment of start-ups and SMEs are more and more willing to move towards the more sophisticated high tech edge of research. Also in the educational system new interesting initiatives are pursued. For instance the European Association for Higher Education in Biotechnology (HEduBT) recently established can award a European Doctorate title (special requirements include a minimum 3 months research work carried out in another Member State).

During the last 12 years over 1 000 training grants have been awarded in the frame of our RTD programmes in Biotechnology. We certainly feel that our training scheme is very much contributing to the transformation and evolution of Biotechnological research which we are witnessing in Europe in this end of the millennium.

A. Vassarotti
In charge of training activities,
Biotechnology Unit
E. Magnien
Head of the Biotechnology Unit


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