£24m funding for industrial studentships

Female technician smile and look forward in front of rail of the machine with her co-worker as background in factory

More than 200 doctoral students will be supported to work on pressing research challenges with UK businesses through a £24 million investment.

This year’s Industrial Co-operative Awards in Science and Technology (ICASE) studentships are supported by an investment of £18 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UKRI.

The 35 industrial partners, ranging from GSK and Unilever to BAE Systems and Rolls Royce, are co-investing £6.7 million.

Gaining skills

The 204 ICASE students will work on research projects co-developed by the industrial partners and host universities.

These will provide them with the opportunity to gain expertise and skills applicable to future roles in academia or industry, and to contribute to projects with real world relevance and impact.

The ICASE scheme, which has been running since 1994, provides students with valuable industrial experience and access to training, facilities, and expertise.

Generating impact

The research projects undertaken generate direct impact for some of the UK’s leading businesses.

Examples from previous cohorts include work by William Christian and Professor Eann Patterson from the University of Liverpool. They used their ICASE collaboration with Airbus to develop a new method to detect the initiation of cracks in aircraft before they are visible to the eye.

This technique could have positive environmental and industrial impacts with greater knowledge of defect mechanics allowing the development of lighter aircraft leading to lower emissions.

Environmental benefits

Nottingham Trent University’s Professor Emily Burton and Dawn Scholey collaborated with Peterborough-based animal nutrition and agricultural service company AB Agri.

This led to a new form of bioprocessed protein to replace South American soya beans. In turn, this has reduced the environmental impact from meat poultry production and led to significant new economic opportunities in the US for the company.

Dr Andrew Bourne, EPSRC Director for Partnerships, said:

ICASE studentships equip outstanding early career researchers with the skills and experience they need to forge an impactful career across engineering and the physical sciences.

And through their studentships they generate real impact through fundamental discovery science that will benefit not only the businesses they are based at but society and the economy as well.

A ten-year report on the benefits of ICASE, commissioned by EPSRC in 2018, found that transferable skills were frequently cited as the single most valuable benefit by students. These were enhanced by the experience of working closely with the company.

In 50% of cases, academics have reported that ICASE awards have played a role in developing new collaborations with industrial partners, demonstrating their importance to continued university and industry engagement.

Testimonials from previous ICASE cohorts

Mark Purdie, Director of Science & Innovation at AZ, said:

The ICASE award involves close collaboration between AZ and the academic and this gives the academic a real opportunity to get a better understanding of how their research can be applied in an industrial setting and gain real impact.

Training the next generation of scientists for a career in either industry or academia is a key output of the scheme and is of crucial importance to the UK.

Hira Sudan, Academic Liaison Manager at GSK, said:

EPSRC ICASE allocations have helped GSK to train and arm scientists with the skill sets required to undertake cutting-edge science to meet scientific challenges relevant to our company.

The ICASE allocations have fostered collaborations between GSK and academia.

EPSRC ICASE projects are powerful enablers, they enable the building of mutually beneficial collaborative links between academia and industry that have the potential to impact society.

Carla Barbatti, R&D Centre Manager at Constellium, said:

Through the exposure to industrial research and complementary training on industrially-oriented aspects, including the possibility of participating in prototyping/trial campaigns and having hands-on training on equipment and techniques, we have established a process through which the PhD students have the chance to develop a broad range of skills in addition to the academic ones.

The ultimate objective is to identify talents and develop people for the business.

Mark Jefferies, Chief of University Research Liaison at Rolls-Royce, said:

Rolls-Royce provides support, in one form or another, to over 500 doctoral candidates around the world at any one time.

ICASE awards form an essential element in that portfolio of talent, helping to anchor a significant proportion of our fundamental engagement with academia in the UK.

Top image:  Credit: Getty

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