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MIT Portugal program renewed for another five years

The Portuguese Science Foundation (FCT) has renewed its collaboration with the MIT Portugal program, adding a second phase that will carry the relationship through 2017. The contract, signed by the MIT Office of Sponsored Programs this week, reaffirms the commitment of the Portuguese government and spotlights the impact that MIT researchers have had on government, academia and industry.

The renewal builds on five years of successful collaboration between faculty and students at MIT and in Portugal. Faculty and university leadership in Portugal and at MIT alike had strongly pushed for a continuation of the program given the significant role MIT Portugal has been playing in the country's strategy to address the roots of its economic woes, strengthening the country's knowledge base through a strategic investment in human capital, international collaboration in innovative technology sectors, and institution-building in Portugal.

"We are extremely pleased with this decision and the commitment of the Portuguese leadership," says Dava Newman, MIT Portugal director and professor of Aeronautics & Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT. "The renewal will enable us to continue our great work with our wonderful Portuguese colleagues, and to continue to focus on unique research problems in Portugal and around the world. It will allow us to build on the considerable achievements of Phase 1 and make sure that these achievements are sustained in the Portuguese system in the future."

For a program that draws much of its strength from the design of innovative graduate programs and PhD-level research, these additional five years are indeed welcome. "Everyone who's been involved with international programs knows that in the first phase (~5 years) we see the first PhD cohort graduate, and in the second phase we aim to implement best practices and turn seeds of change into lasting impact," Newman says.

Launched in 2006, this consortium effectively links a significant part of Portugal's research and innovation system to MIT; features a collaborative model pioneered in the field of education and research; and brings together universities, industries, and government around a common agenda of excellence and innovation. The program addresses major technical, economic and social challenges in emerging areas of systems engineering, including sustainable energy systems, transportation systems, bioengineering systems and engineering design and advanced manufacturing. To date, the program has enrolled more than 500 students in Portugal and has involved at least 70 faculty members and researchers at MIT and 270 Portuguese faculty.

Additionally, the program has created an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship in Portugal, where new products and technologies are created from the scientific developments achieved by students and faculty. MIT Portugal currently has 59 collaborations with companies and in the first five years seven startups emerged from the program. Moreover, the program has also launched several auxiliary activities through its Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative to boost the Portuguese innovation ecosystem, including the successful venture competition Building Global Innovators, now in its fourth edition.

The second phase of the program will focus on the development and implementation of larger projects in areas of economic importance. The program will strengthen its commitment to develop testbeds, applied projects developed in close relationship with industry, capturing a relevant co-financing from the private sector and with high capacity for marketing and export. The program will also continue to support initiatives in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship, including the training of Portuguese faculty and PhD students through an "immersion" experience at MIT.

The ongoing commitment of the MIT Portugal program to people, projects, and entrepreneurs is highlighted by Paulo Ferrão, national program director. "The MIT Portugal program will continue to invest in people, seeking to demonstrate that investment in knowledge and in the promotion of projects with high economic value helps foster a more competitive country."

The four international PhD programs promoted by MIT and Portuguese universities recently have been provided funding by an international evaluation panel, recognizing the high quality of the curricula and faculty involved. For the next four years, starting in January 2014, the MIT Portugal program will award, through FCT, 10 fellowships in each of the PhD programs (Bioengineering, Leaders for Technical Industries, Sustainable Energy Systems and Transportation Systems).

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