The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has awarded £8.8M to fund 93 bioscience PhD studentships in collaboration with industry.
The four-year Industrial CASE studentships (previously known as 'Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering') are collaborative training grants that give top bioscience PhD students the chance to experience first-rate research at both an academic institution and a partner organisation, usually from industry.
As well as providing high-quality training the Industrial CASE scheme develops links between students, academia and industry. By investing in training early career researchers, industrial partners help nurture skilled graduates who will contribute to the growth of the bioeconomy, a sector in Europe worth more than €1.5Tn which employs 22M people.
This year the scheme received a record number of applications, and the studentships were awarded for research projects in many diverse areas across BBSRC's entire remit including agriculture, biomedicine and biotechnology, animal health, biorenewables and synthetic biology.
Studentships will begin in the 2013-14 academic year and as part of the scheme PhD students must spend at least three months on placement at the partner organisation, on research directly relevant to their studies.
The studentships are funded by BBSRC with the partner organisations making financial and in-kind contributions to ensure success.
One longstanding industrial partner is UK biotechnology firm Oxitec Ltd, which has secured funding for two studentships commencing 2013-14.
Dr Luke Alphey, Co-founder and Chief Scientist at Oxitec Ltd, said: "Oxitec has participated in this excellent scheme for many years now. It attracts bright, motivated graduates and gives them industry experience as well as academic rigour within their PhD.
"Together with the BBSRC's LINK grants, these Industrial CASE studentships help us maintain links with academics working in areas relevant to us. We look forward to recruiting and welcoming this year's intake."
Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director, Innovation and Skills, said: "The Industrial CASE scheme enables students to develop skills that wouldn't be possible to acquire in academic settings alone; it is a great way of cementing and driving forward current collaborations as well as catalysing future ones.
"The students can enhance their all-important professional skills whilst the academic and industrial partners are able to work together to set the training agenda and to draw on some of the brightest graduates around."
The increase in applications follows an independent evaluation of the Industrial CASE scheme in 2012 which found that it provided high quality training for students, helping them to learn a broad range of both research and professional skills (see www.bbsrc.ac.uk/web/FILES/Reviews/icase-evaluation-conclusions.pdf (PDF 154KB) ).
A number of recommendations to enhance the scheme have since been implemented, particularly to encourage participation from small and medium-sized enterprises. These include removing a requirement from partners with less than 50 employees to make a financial contribution to the academic institution.
These efforts to broaden participation have succeeded in 40% of awards being made to small companies, and half of the organisations receiving Industrial CASE funding were new to the scheme this year.
Dr Caulcott added: "We saw a very high standard of applications this year and we are pleased to see that our response to the evaluation of the scheme has resulted in the positive outcome of greater diversity of applications and engagement with a broad range of companies."
In total more than 140 non-academic partners (largely companies) have participated in BBSRC's Industrial CASE scheme since 2006, with over 500 studentships awarded.
The next iCASE competition for studentships starting in 2014-15 is open from May to July 2013.
Visit www.bbsrc.ac.uk/business/training/industrial-case.aspx for more information.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £500M (2012-2013), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.