Wales woos global graduates

Scholarships seek to boost innovation.

Marc Clement: partnerships. Credit: UNIV. WALES

Valuable new scholarships are on offer to lure some of the world's most talented graduate students to Wales. Based at the University of Wales, the students will work with Welsh businesses on innovative products, ranging from nanotechnology devices to aerospace components.

Over the next three years, the £11.4-million (US$16.8-million) Prince of Wales Innovation Scholarships programme will provide 100 students with an annual stipend of £20,000, a research grant of £5,000 and a tuition waiver. In return, the students are expected to generate new Wales-based products, patents or services.

When the gross domestic product per capita for Wales dipped below 75% of the European Union (EU) average in 1999, it qualified for funds from the European Regional Development Fund, an EU initiative to strengthen economic growth in struggling areas. From a second round of funding in 2006, University of Wales vice-chancellor Marc Clement combined £5 million in development funds with core university funds to promote a knowledge economy focused on innovation.

By embedding the students in industry, Clement wants to provide an opportunity for young researchers to see first-hand how their ideas can have practical results. A statement by Welsh venture capitalist Michael Moritz caught his ear — that the founders of some of the most successful companies are younger than 26, non-American, with backgrounds in science, technology or medicine.

“UK scholarships are often limited to UK or EU applicants. These scholarships allow anybody in the world to come to Wales to study,” says Steve Conlan, co-director of Swansea University's Centre for NanoHealth. Conlan says that Swansea's School of Medicine is actively working to take advantage of the scholarship scheme. “We don't have coal mining any more, and little heavy industry, so we are looking for high-tech, high-value industries to sustain our economic future,” he says.

Clement is forging partnerships with companies and universities around the world. He says the scholarships will focus on building synergies between academia and companies in priority sectors defined by the Welsh Assembly government, such as life sciences, engineering, information and communication technologies, and environmental technologies. He has met representatives of top research universities to discuss collaborations.

Steven Beckwith, vice-president for research and graduate studies at the University of California, says the university will advertise the programme to its students. “Time will tell if it will work,” he says. “But it is an intriguing way to teach graduate students how the new knowledge they create in an academic setting can be applied to industry.”

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Gewin, V. Wales woos global graduates. Nature 458, 933 (2009).

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