The European Mathematical Society
Committee for Developing Countries

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July 2013: Expressions of Interest in the ERCE programme are now requested. Each interested institute is asked to send us a brief description of its activities, and its suitability, together with a covering letter and supporting material. The preliminary deadline for application or expression of interest is 28th February 2014. Further information can be found here.

    The focus of this project is the education of students in the developed world to the Masters level. We aim to tailor our approach so that it is appropriate to the different levels of development that exist in different parts of the world. Our first call for interest went out in 2010, another followed in 2012, and the third has just gone out (see above).

    To train mathematicians from the least developed regions to say the Masters level, it is not efficient, nor necessary, to send them to institutions of the highest level. Indeed among the emerging economical regions there are very good centres which can train mathematicians to the Masters level and higher. After the Master's degree, if the student is capable, then we can try to find ways of sending him or her to Europe to do a Ph.D. In fact, EMS-CDC, in collaboration with CIMPA, has already educated a Cambodian student in Vietnam to Masters level, with two more doing the course in 2010/2011.

    It is in this spirit that our committee wishes to propose a scheme of Emerging Regional Centres of Excellence (ERCE). The idea is for EMS to select, endorse and help a number of such centres to offer training to M.Sc. level to students from less developed countries in their region. Following the above encouraging example, provided there are institutions in the emerging economies who are interested in participating, and with the backing of the EMS, our committee is confident that such a scheme will work well.

    We have spoken of this idea to a number of mathematicians and the reaction has been really positive. This includes the President of the European Mathematical Society, colleagues in South America, South Africa and Asia. The first label ERCE has been attributed in 2011 to the Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan. The ERCE label was awarded to two more institutions - Centro de Investigación en Matemáticas, Mexico (CIMAT) and the Vietnam Institute for Advanced Studies in Mathematics (VIASM) - in 2013. If we can get funding from the European Commission then we can help to build up the infrastructure of these centres in many practical ways. But even without much funding, we can use our expertise and our connections to reinforce centres in many material ways.

    The advantages of such a procedure are threefold:

  1. It is cheaper in general to send a student to a nearby country or region.
  2. The student will be less disoriented, and in some cases, they may not need a higher European degree.
  3. The educating institution will gain experience and prestige.

    Before we put this into action, we should bear in mind several points.

  1. Such a scheme involves no financial cost to EMS.
  2. We should set up precise criteria, which would have to be accepted by EC, and which we shall apply in our selection.
  3. Will there be institutions interested, and what advantages we can offer them?
  4. On the other hand, there may be too many institutions who want to bear the label EMS-ERCE.
  5. We have to consider the position of some prestigious institutions in the emerging economies (e.g. TIFR, Mumbai, or IMPA, Rio).

To take the above points into consideration, in November 2012, we issued a second call for expressions of interest for the label Emerging Regional Centres of Excellence (EMS-ERCE). Such a label will be given for a period of four years, renewable thereafter. Prestigious institutions are of course welcome to apply, if the scheme interests them. In that case, they would add lustre to the scheme.

The list of criteria for participation in this scheme are:

  1. The centre is of good scientific standing in the region and neighboring regions.
  2. It has a good track record both in research and in pedagogy.
  3. The centre has a fairly international outlook.
  4. The centre has good, reasonably guaranteed long-term prospects.
  5. The centre is willing to admit and educate graduate students from less developed regions. It should have the infrastructure to do so, e.g. the language of instruction should preferably be in one of the main European languages (English, French or Spanish).
  6. The degree aimed at is M.Sc., and Ph.D. in exceptional cases.
  7. The centre is willing to welcome well-established foreign visiting mathematicians for collaboration in research and for teaching graduate courses.

The advantages for the centre are:

  1. The label can add prestige and visibility to the centre, which will most probably attract more and better students.
  2. Often this will in turn attract funding from local and regional sources.
  3. The members of CDC will be there to give support and advice whenever needed. Since this will be considered part of our direct mission, they will get priority of our time and resources.
  4. CDC will be on hand to help those of the students who might wish to and who are capable of continuing their studies after their M.Sc.
  5. CDC will try to send experienced lecturers to give short or medium courses, e.g. by involving the Volunteer Lecturer Program sponsored by the Developing Countries Strategy Group (DSCG) of the International Mathematical Union, in cooperation with CIMPA and the U.S National Committee for Mathematics.
  6. CDC will seek European hosts for researchers from these centres for visits or collaborations, or both.
  7. CDC will make available small grants for members of the centres to attend conferences, when appropriate.

If all works according to plan, then the ERCE will provide education in less developed regions and will, in exchange, get help to further develop themselves. It looks to be a very advantageous scheme for all. At the same time, with relatively small expenditure a larger number of students can receive their first graduate education, in a culture not too removed from their own. This will be a practical and efficient way for mathematicians to help other mathematicians.

ERCE Subcommittee of EMS-CDC: Anna Fino, Giulia di Nunno, Michel Jambu, Michel Thera, Ramadas Ramakrishnan Trivandrum, Paul Vaderlind, Begoña Vitoriano, Michel Waldschmidt, Tsou Sheung Tsun.
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Last modified: 10 March 2014