Muse: "We're going into this evaluation with peace of mind".

Five years after its launch, the Muse I-Site is completing its probationary period and preparing for the final evaluation, which will take place from November to January. How is Montpellier faring with this future-oriented investment aimed at creating world-class universities? François Pierrot, Executive Director of the I-Site Muse and Vice-President in charge of innovation at the UM, provides an update.

MUSE is now entering its final phase, with the site's long-term future at stake. How will the final evaluation by the international I-Sites jury proceed?
The evaluation began last July, when we sent our written report to the jury. On November 16 and 17, the international jury will come to Montpellier to meet the project's stakeholders. The final phase will take place next January, when a Muse delegation will travel to Paris, probably to the ANR offices, to meet the full jury.

Who makes up the jury? Academics?
The members of the Idex and I-Site jury do not come from the French system. They are either international university executives or people from major industrial groups. There are Germans, Canadians, Spaniards... The jury is made up of 25 members, about a third of whom will be present in Montpellier for the evaluation.

How will this on-site evaluation be carried out?
The jury will meet, in 45-minute segments, with those involved in the construction of Muse, i.e. managers of the partner establishments, as well as research and training project leaders, students, lecturers and myself and Philippe Augé, the Chairman.

On what criteria will this evaluation be based?
The first thing they'll be assessing is the effectiveness of the establishment of a university capable of integrating all the players in the consortium. This is what we have achieved through the EPE, the experimental public establishment, with the decree of September 20. To evaluate this point, there are two categories of parameters: the legal and administrative part, and the " field " part, if you like, i.e. the way in which this integration is translated into concrete life.

In other words, the decree is not enough; it's the content of the decree that the jury will be examining?
Indeed, and this content contains several elements that demonstrate the quality of this integration. For us, it's the School of Chemistry in particular that has gone a long way towards integration, since it has granted the University's Board of Directors the right to give its opinion on the school's budget and employment campaign...

And then there's the Institut Agro?
Yes, this time we have signed an association agreement with them, which shows that the Institut Agro is fully committed to being an experimental establishment.

This is also the framework for the new Strategic and Structuring Investment Committee?
This is indeed the second proof of a strong and successful integration. This committee is made up of all our partner institutions - CIRAD, CNRS, INRAE, IRD, INSERM, etc. In short, all those with whom we signed a strategic agreement at the Africa-France summit on October 8. It is this committee that will work on all the major projects that will structure our collective life.

So much for the administrative part, what about the "real-life" part? As a reminder, I-SITE is an acronym for "sciences, innovation, territory and economy". These are the 4 axes on which Muse will be evaluated?
These 4 axes or pillars describe the general vocation of I-Site initiatives. In concrete terms, the jury wants to know whether, at the end of this probationary period, the University has become more attractive and more visible.

And so?
As far as attractiveness is concerned, one figure speaks for itself: over the 5 years of the I-Site, the number of doctoral students in France has fallen by 5% on average, whereas in Montpellier it has risen by 10%. We have also succeeded in recruiting top-level scientists from abroad. So, are we attractive? Yes. Are we more visible? There are several parameters, not all of which will convince the same people, but let's mention them: the Shanghai ranking: in 5 years, we've gained 140 places! I-Site publications? 65% of them are co-authored by foreign authors.

This is a remarkable rate, even on an international scale. Over the same period, we have increased our European funding by 25%, and we have been chosen to set up the UNESCO center for water. In terms of training, we have also created CHARM EU. These factors clearly indicate a gain in international visibility.

You mentioned training, but pedagogical innovation will also be evaluated by the jury...
Absolutely, and at the heart of this issue is the creation of the pedagogical innovation center, made up of extremely dynamic and competent experts, and the symposium held recently is the best proof of this. There is also a real focus on teacher training, so that teachers can seize on these innovations and make their own proposals. We have also put in place excellent facilities for this purpose, tools that teachers also use in their innovative practices...

What are Muse's arguments in favor of "territory and economy"?
In 5 years, we've doubled the number of companies based on campus. We now have 62. To go even further, we have synchronized all our development and transfer services with our partners. We have signed a charter setting out the conditions for welcoming a company, so that they are exactly the same at UM, CNRS or Inrae, etc... Business developers work together to promote all the know-how developed in the site's laboratories by field and no longer by reference to one supervisory authority or another.

A region also means local authorities?
Absolutely, and there are two that particularly concern us: the Region and the Metropolis. The former has been a privileged partner since the beginning of the I-Site, through the funding of numerous doctoral contracts and the launch of key challenges directly inspired by the KIM, Muse's key initiatives. There's also the Montpellier Metropolis and its economic development project, MedVallée, which is based on issues already identified by the University. We can see that "caring, nurturing and protecting" are areas in which the UM, the Region and the Metropole are perfectly aligned.

The I-Site has also committed to a more specific dimension, namely to be a scientific portal for the countries of the South...
It's true, Montpellier has the ambition to be a portal for all scientific issues of interest to the countries of the South. I believe that with the Africa-France summit we demonstrated our legitimacy on these issues.

This seems to be a real strength. Are there any weak points?
I wouldn't call them weak points, but there are some areas where we haven't been able to make as much progress as we would have liked because of the health crisis. One example is the internationalization of our training courses. We also need to work on creating a stronger link between basic research and clinical research... Our priorities for the future will take particular account of these two issues.

So we have every chance of perpetuating the I-Site?
What we can say is that we're going into this evaluation calmly, with the feeling that we've done the right thing. However, the jury is sovereign and may think differently than we do, so we mustn't be presumptuous.

Has it happened that other sites have not been selected?
Yes, absolutely. Toulouse and Lyon were not selected in the Idex category, and the Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté in the I-Site category. It's quite possible that we won't make the grade, and that's why we're continuing to be fully mobilized for this evaluation.