Budget cuts threaten prestigious master in evolutionary biology

Evolutionary biology risks losing the prestigious Erasmus Mundus MEME master programme. The Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) says it doesn’t have the funds for it anymore.

The Erasmus Mundus Master Programme in Evolutionary Biology (MEME) is one of six master programmes at the UG that hold the prestigious Erasmus Mundus label from the European Commission.

‘In our field, this programme is recognised worldwide’, says MEME director and evolutionary genetics professor Leo Beukeboom. ‘Wherever you go at conferences and gatherings, you encounter alumni. Furthermore, only excellent students are allowed into this master through a very rigorous selection process.’

He emphasises the significance of the programme for non-MEME students studying evolutionary biology. ‘They are integrated into our master in evolutionary biology, creating an incredibly positive dynamic.’

Blocked subsidy application

However, according to FSE, it no longer has the funds for the international collaborative project. That’s why the faculty is blocking a new Erasmus Funding application, says Beukeboom, even though these funds are essential to keep the programme operational. ‘Last year, the application was rejected. We managed to deal with that ourselves, but we cannot sustain that for a second year.’

Under pressure from the university, the faculty recently gave the MEME directors a potential chance, though. ‘If we can show that the programme is budget neutral, they are willing to reconsider their blockade’, says Beukeboom. ‘They highly value on these kinds of programmes.’

Double-joint degree

Every year, 25 to 30 students enroll in the two-year research master. Only a few of them come to Groningen; the programme operates as a double-joint degree, where students study at multiple universities and receive diplomas from several universities.

Students who choose Groningen are here for at least a year. ‘Groningen only covers the time they spend here’, says Beukeboom. He is unsure of the annual cost of the programme to the UG. ‘We’ve inquired with the faculty, but it can’t be more than a hundred thousand.’

Moreover, he says, the education these students receive is part of the master’s curriculum anyway. ‘But if the programme disappears from Groningen, FSE would compromise on the quality and size of the master.’

International collaboration

The UG collaborates on this programme with five other universities, including Uppsala University in Sweden, the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and Harvard University in the United States. ‘We need to respond as quickly as possible because our partners need to know what’s happening’, he says.

Writing an application takes time, and the deadline is in February. ‘If we don’t participate anymore, Uppsala is willing to take over coordination. They would write the application and seek a new partner to replace Groningen.’

However, the idea alone makes Beukeboom unhappy. ‘It would be terrible if the programme continues and Groningen can no longer participate after fourteen years.’

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