Seven major research programs at the University of Bordeaux

An interview with Manuel Tunon de Lara, President of the University of Bordeaux, to mark the announcement of seven projects being awarded with the "Grands Programmes de Recherche" quality label.

  • 18/05/2021

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The University of Bordeaux has recently awarded quality labels to seven Major Research Programs (Grands Programmes de Recherche - GPR), interdisciplinary projects focused on a specific scientific and international challenge: BPS, Brain_2030, HOPE, Human Past, IPORA, LIGHT and PPM.* These seven programs have been chosen after a selection stage with help from an international scientific committee composed of 13 renowned experts in their fields. In line with the university’s focus on a strategy for 2030, these GPR are established for the next eight years, with a roadmap for the first four years and an assessment stage scheduled midway. They will serve as fundamental and strategic tools of the research departments. Thanks to the funding awarded, it will be possible to support activities contributing directly to scientific production and innovation, e.g. theses and post-doctoral studies, etc.

These Major Research Programs are part of a policy renewal to develop an initiative of excellence in research, embodied over the last 10 years by the LabEx and Clusters. Through their work with the university’s on-site partners, including research bodies (CNRS, Inserm, Inrae, Inria) and associate members (Bordeaux INP, Sciences Po Bordeaux), the aim is to support the development of high-impact research, at the cutting edge of international excellence.

Why award quality labels to Major Research Programs?

Manuel Tunon de Lara: A university like ours which, in terms of research, is of national importance and hopes to strengthen its involvement at a European and international level, must make choices around scientific priorities that will contribute to its visibility and attractiveness. These programs do not encompass our entire scientific policy, but they are important and represent a form of excellence, and are a reference. They are an iconic brand for our university. Some come with a history that has resulted in a critical mass of researchers, a level of excellence. Others are more recent, the result notably of interdisciplinary crossovers made possible by a university such as ours. All these priorities are shared with partners, including research bodies, which contribute to this critical mass.

Prioritizing scientific orientations was already our approach with institutions on site in 2007-2008 when we launched Operation Campus in order to create a new university model. We then took advantage of the Investments for the Future Program (PIA) and LabEx to provide financial support for our strategic directions and this worked well. The LabEx laboratories have made an enormous contribution by attracting lecturer-researchers, and by producing high-level science. They have been able to attract and unite research bodies around themselves. An entire strategic, economic and educational dimension has been built on this foundation.

What are the specific features of these Major Research Programs?

First of all, our desire was, on the one hand, to perpetuate the structuring of research, and on the other hand to continue to support projects with the same level of ambition and stringency as the LabEx. This is possible thanks to the university’s research departments, created in 2019, which will steer and direct these projects of excellence, or GPR. They have a fundamental role in their success.

The specific nature of these major programs also lies in their funding. This is a very significant investment for the university, of 70 million by 2030. This is a considerable part of the funding granted to the University of Bordeaux in the context of the Initiative of Excellence quality label. Lastly, with the Major Research Programs, it was our intention to do away with boundaries between disciplines and institutions, putting the subject matter and scientific excellence at the forefront. The program funds skills, whether at the University of Bordeaux, within a research body or another institution on site, should they wish to be part of our momentum.

One important feature does not change: this is public money, borrowed by the State to encourage growth and make a return on investment. So for one euro invested, the goal is to have a leverage effect of at least one euro provided by other funding, whether public or private. This is obviously very ambitious, but it is a key element of the program.

Was it difficult to choose from among the 15 proposals?

All the projects were of a very high scientific quality. The international scientific advisory committee was certainly very impressed by their high standard in scientific terms, but also by their responses to societal challenges. In recent years, with the LabEx and Clusters, there has been a growth effect on site, we are stronger, more interdisciplinary, but as we still have the same amount of funding, we have to be even more demanding. We relied entirely on the scientific advisory committee, for whom it was extremely difficult not to be able to support some topics that were just a little below standard. In fact, following on from these recommendations, we are currently thinking about using part of the funding to support the momentum of certain sections of these projects that could have been selected if additional resources had been available.

How do these projects fit into the U30 dynamic?

What has changed a lot in the past 10 years is that institutions are looking to the future, anticipating how they can best contribute to scientific progress on the international stage. Hence the U25 framework which targets a trajectory, along with scientific priorities, and international development. We already wanted the University of Bordeaux to be recognized in certain subject fields, to create a form of scientific signature. These subject fields continue to develop, some are changing direction, others are appearing today with one of the Major Research Programs. They will obviously influence the new U30 trajectory, within our intensive international research university. A university whose primary role is to teach students, to train young people for their future. Our distinctive feature is that we are lucky to be able to support this training with top level research. Clearly, these research environments, which are in the process of being built, are based on our research departments, nurtured previously by the LabEx and now by the Major Research Programs. This is the fertile ground from which the new diplomas, PhDs, and UBGrads will flourish.

What does this step say about the University of Bordeaux? How is it important?

This is an important step as it is now up to us to organize the scientific orientations  of our institution, and their contribution to the national strategy. Until now, with the LabEx and funding, everything was controlled by international juries and systems organized by the French National Research Agency (ANR). Today we must learn to steer our own research strategy and apply the same demands as an external or State agency. We therefore have to be able to take responsibility and make choices - as we currently do in deciding whether or not to continue with certain topics in the LabEx and Clusters – this is synonymous with rigor and is something that has to be done, given the funding involved. For me, this is one of the major factors of success. This marks what can be described as the coming of age of our institution.

*The seven projects selected

BPS - Bordeaux Plant Sciences

Project directed by Yves Gibon, researcher with Inrae at the Fruit Biology and Pathology Laboratory (BFP - Inrae and University of Bordeaux)

Lead research department: Environmental Sciences
Other research department involved: Social Sciences of Contemporary Changes (CHANGES)
Other entities involved: Biogeco, BFP, EGFV, Ispa, Gretha, LBM, Mycsa, Œnologie, Save, BIC, BIC-PIV (Bordeaux imaging center-plant imaging unit) and Vine Wine Grande Ferrade

BRAIN_2030 - Bordeaux Region Aquitaine Initiative for the future of Neuroscience

Project directed by Daniel Choquet, researcher with the CNRS at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Neurosciences (IINS - CNRS and University of Bordeaux)

Lead research department: Bordeaux Neurocampus
Other research departments involved: Health Sciences and Technologies, Biological and Medical Sciences, Material and Light Sciences, and Engineering and Digital Sciences
Other entities involved: NCM, IINS, IMN, Incia, Nutrineuro, Sanpsy and BIC

HOPE - Understanding Human Well-being and Behavior for better Policies & Societies

Project directed by Olivier Bargain, Professor at the University of Bordeaux at the Laboratory of Analysis and Research in International Economics and Finance (Larefi – University of Bordeaux)

Lead research department: Behavior, Organizations and Policy Evaluation (ECOr)
Other research departments involved: Social Sciences of Contemporary Changes (CHANGES), Law and Social Transformations (DETS), Public Health, and Environmental Sciences
Other entities involved: Larefi, Gretha, LabPsy, BPH, Comptrasec, Irgo, Laces and Passages

Human Past

Project directed by Francesco d’Errico, researcher with the CNRS at the From Prehistory to Present Time Laboratory: Culture, Environment, Anthropology (Pacea - CNRS, Ministry of Culture and University of Bordeaux)

Lead research department: Archeological Sciences
Other research departments involved: Environmental Sciences and Bordeaux Neurocampus
Other entities involved: Pacea, Ausonius, CRP2A-IRAMAT, Archéovision

IPORA - Interdisciplinary Policy-Oriented Research on Africa

Project directed by: Xavier Anglaret, researcher with Inserm at the Bordeaux Population Health Research Center (BPH - Inserm and University of Bordeaux)

Lead research department: Public Health
Other research departments involved: Behavior, Organizations and Policy Evaluation (ECOr), and Social Sciences of Contemporary Changes (CHANGES)
Other entities involved: BPH, Gretha, Larefi, LAM and Comptrasec

LIGHT - Light sciences and its applications

Project directed by: Brahim Lounis, Professor at the University of Bordeaux at the Photonics, Numerical and Nanosciences Laboratory (LP2N – CNRS, IOGS and University of Bordeaux)

Lead research department: Material and Light Sciences
Other research departments involved: Bordeaux Neurocampus, Engineering and Digital Sciences, and Health Sciences and Technologies
Other entities involved: LP2N, Celia, Loma, CENBG, IINS, IBGC, ISM, ICMCB, CRPP, IMS, I2M, CBMN, IECB, LCPO, BIC and ELORPrintTec

PPM - Post-Petroleum Materials

Project directed by Daniel Taton, Professor at the University of Bordeaux at the Organic Polymer Chemistry Laboratory (LCPO - Bordeaux INP, CNRS and University of Bordeaux)

Lead research department: Material and Light Sciences
Other research departments involved: Engineering and Digital Sciences, Health Sciences and Technologies, and Behavior, Organizations and Policy Evaluation (ECOr)
Other entities involved: CRPP, ICMCB, ISM, LCPO, LCTS, LOF, LOMA, I2M, IMS, CBMN and Larefi



For more information

Consult a previous article concerning our Major Research Programs