From 2006 to 2012, the University of Liège ran an international incoming postdoctoral fellowship programme aimed to support young researchers in attaining an independent position at the top of their research field. The project had many successes: 120 fellows, hundreds of joint publications, and many new skills were developed aiding the researchers’ careers to flourish. The applicants’ projects were based on a bottom-up approach in which they defined their own research project in conjunction with a supervisor, resulting in a win-win situation for science and career development. All research disciplines were recognised. Fellowships included a salary and a travel-mobility-research allowance of 15,000 EUR/year.

However, due to the high cost, ULiège was not able to support salaries for outgoing post-docs as employers of incoming fellows benefitted from tax breaks that divided their costs by two. To compensate, a 3 month mobility allowance was offered to those who had a position at ULiège and wished to go abroad.

Evaluation and selection procedures had previously been developed in a fair and transparent process at the university, relying on the detailed reviews of internal experts, evaluation reports and ranking applications. Pertinent and positive feedback was sent to candidates.

An informal internal survey revealed that incoming postdocs (IPD) preferred to lengthen their fellowships to 2 years whereas ULiège outgoing postdoctoral researchers (OPD) preferred a one-year fellowship as this gave them the experience required to apply for ambitious longer term positions and funding (i.e. FRS-FNRS or ERC). The BeIPD project was submitted in order to enable ULiège to increase its funding capacity, and to take into account an internal strategy and the postdocs’ needs. A budget of about 16 million EUR was earmarked for the project, with an EU contribution of up to 7 million euros. The university’s contribution remained equivalent to that of the initial programme: 1,8 million EUR/year.

Project objectives

The BeIPD FP7-People-Marie Curie Actions-Cofund Project (2013-2019) sought to offer positions across all disciplines to worldwide postdoctoral researchers with the purpose of establishing themselves as independent researchers in all aspects of society, including academia.  Postdocs were offered the opportunity to develop research excellence in high quality research labs, to enlarge their professional networks, to enhance their personal skills, to reflect on their careers and to engage with the broader society.

The project was initially scheduled for 60 months, with 100 2-year Incoming post-doctoral fellowships and 28 1-year Outgoing postdoctoral fellowships amounting to 228 years of research.  In the end, taking into account those who relinquished their contracts, fellowships were awarded to 104 Incoming Postdocs (IPD), for those new to ULiège or to Belgium and looking to join one of our top research units, and 32 Outgoing Postdocs (OPD) for young postdocs looking to develop their careers and competencies elsewhere in the world.

In addition to a commitment to excellence, the BeIPD project offered the opportunity for the university to review and enhance its HRS4R practices. Although ULiège has a proven track record, the project focused specifically on Open, Transparent and Merit-based Recruitment (OTM-R) procedures and career development support. The experienced ULiège Research & Development Office managed the project and established career development support for researchers (training workshops and individual consultations) as part of Euraxess.

ULiège saw its external collaboration practices evolve as external partners were convened for the application assessments (evaluation and selection process). An internal review was conducted annually by the Quality Assessment Office in order to improve practices and guarantee the success of the programme.

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