The “Digital Systems for Humans” Graduate School of Research has been selected

The “UCA Digital Systems for Humans” project submitted by the Université Côte d’Azur is one of 29 Graduate Schools of Research chosen by the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation and the General Secretary for Investment as part of the third round of the French Program of Investments for the Future (PIA3). The UCA community will receive close to €13 million to build a true “graduate school” around the digital sciences and its human aspects.


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Launched in February 2017, as part of the third round of the Program of Investments for the Future, the Graduate Schools of Research aim to offer each university the chance to strengthen the impact and international reputation of its research and education in one or more scientific areas. This involves providing funding in France for the internationally-recognized model of graduate schools, uniting universities, institutes, and research organizations around a common theme.

Serving as a complement to the “New Academic Programs” initiative of the PIA3, which will organize the bachelor’s (undergraduate) level, the Graduate Schools of Research will shape the master’s and doctoral (graduate) offerings at a university. This restructuring will follow the introduction of the three cycle system (bachelor/master’s/doctorate) favored by the Bologna Process.

At the Université Côte d’Azur, five EUR proposals were submitted in June 2017, corresponding to five, broad educational and research areas proposed during the UCA’s successful bid for the PIA2 Excellence Initiative (IDEX). At present, a single EUR was selected by the international jury: the “UCA Digital Systems for Humans” Graduate School of Research, which unites the Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), the French National Institute for Computer Science and Applied Mathematics (Inria), and the SKEMA Business School around the digital sciences and their human aspects.

For Jean-Marc Gambaudo, President of the Université Côte d’Azur, “The Université Côte d’Azur will reform its undergraduate and graduate educational offerings in five areas by re-organizing its master’s and doctoral programs in graduate schools and by re-submitting the proposals which weren’t selected during the second round in 2018. The educational models submitted as part of the new contract with the Ministry address these new issues and presage the target university.

How will this Graduate School of Research, which will begin in September 2018, be organized? How will the €13 million be used? Johan Montagnat, director of this selected EUR, showed us the plan. In addition to being a principal researcher at the Laboratory for Computer Science, Signals, and Information Systems (i3S), he has also been the head, since 2014, of the User-Centric Network UCN@Sophia Laboratory of Excellence (LABEX) established in 2012 by a grant from the PIA1.
The UCN@Sophia LABEX has been integrated within the UCA’s IDEX project’s “Networks, Information, and Digital Society” Academy of Excellence since its inception in 2016 and has already initiated important work structuring a part of the community, which prefigures what we would like to in the EUR afterwards. Responding to this call for proposals provided a unique opportunity to give new impetus to this initiative, particularly at the level of training future Ph.D. graduates. This call for proposals was all the more strategic because it involved a combined call for the establishment of an EUR as well as the extension of the LABEX, both for a period of ten years,” Montagnat explained.

“UCA Digital Systems for Humans” joins laboratories and educational programs which are not only involved in the development of digital technologies but also in their impact on the economy, on legislation, and on society in general. “The EUR will focus on two aspects with a multidisciplinary approach: 1. technical issues combining electronics, computing, and telecommunications and 2. human aspects such as economics, law, sociology, philosophy, and ergonomics. It also deals with disciplines interested in the digital impact on their field such as geography, linguistics, and sport.”

At the doctoral level, the EUR will encompass the subjects covered by the current Doctoral School of “Information and Communication Sciences and Technologies”, but also part of the scope of the Doctoral School of “Law, Economics, Political Science, and Management” for dissertations dealing with digital social sciences.
At the master’s level, the EUR will bring together educational programs in electronics, computer science, as well in the fields of digital economics, law, and business in partnership with the SKEMA Business School. It will contribute to other educational programs in areas where the digital sciences have an increasing presence.

A transformative project which to establish itself over 10 years

The project contract should be signed during the first third of 2018 with the first effects for the beginning of the 2018 academic year. The transformation process resulting in the graduate school will come to pass over several years,” Johan Montagnat forecast. The master’s programs will continue to exist according to the plans filed with the Ministry as part of the new contract. At the start of the 2018 academic year, students will register for a master’s program, but they will belong to the “Digital Systems for Humans” Graduate School of Research providing them with many advantages: “This will give them educational content, which has been revised according to the EUR’s objectives, which offer both greater personalization of the curriculum and more individualized student mentoring,” explained the director.

From the start, we will ensure that there are bridges between the educational programs so that students can acquire multiple skills. Students also want to have a certain freedom in the composition of their curriculum, and the master’s programs participating in the EUR will structure their content in a “major/minor” fashion,” explained Johan Montagnat. Students who are registered in one specialized area will be able to complete their curriculum with minors, which they can find either in their own or another department. A student in the computing major could also take the business model minor, for example. The master’s diploma will be in the major field, and the EUR will provide an additional certificate of expertise covering the additional disciplines.

In this respect, we will rapidly meet with the directors of the master’s programs and other relevant groups to discuss the content and structure of the curriculum. It is important that the master’s programs be sufficiently flexible to allow us to implement this procedure.

Pedagogical innovation, professionally-oriented programs, and research training

The EUR encompasses education both using and focusing on digital technologies. “We will rely on the Graduate School of Teaching and Education (ESPE) of the Academy of Nice to work on using digital tools and new learning techniques in the educational programs.

A network of companies will also be developed: the EUR must build a close link with firms in the Côte d’Azur region so as to have good employment opportunities for students. Professionally-oriented educational tracks will be offered in which students will be placed in companies for part of their education; entrepreneurial training will also be available.

The EUR will further offer more academically-oriented programs focused on research: These educational tracks will include research projects as early as possible. Thus, the first year of the master’s will have a mentoring mechanism whereby doctoral students and faculty will provide individual guidance to students. “This will allow the creation of a network of relationships between different generations of doctoral students. In addition to the LABEX, the EUR will provide a number of means to develop research activities, especially by financing doctoral scholarships,” Montagnat explained.

Finally, the establishment of the EUR will result in an administrative simplification: the EUR, UCN@Sophia LABEX, and the “Networks, Information, and Digital Society” Academy of Excellence will be consolidated into one entity to avoid duplication of structures,” Johan Montagnat concluded.

Delphine Sanfilippo

(transl. by Russell Todres - UCA Office of Intl. Scientific Visibility)