Van Dam calls the ISM an “elite” programme. In its first term, it will accept 20 students, at a price of €2,000 per semester. “We want to start small to make sure we’re flexible and agile enough to make changes, and it’s easier to do it with a lower mass of people,” she says, adding that she aims to get monthly feedback in order to be able to react as quickly as possible.
ISM promises a high calibre of lecturers and education. Those who attend “will get three top-of-the-range laboratories to work in as well,” adds van Dam. “We expect our laboratories to be so good that we’ll be able to attract research collaboration with industry.” Students are also expected to do an internship with one of a number of companies, most of which are based in Luxembourg.
Supporting the ISM is the economy ministry, where van Dam had just been before our meeting. “We brainstormed about how we could get some scholarships for industry that would cover more than just tuition,” she said. “Tuition isn’t the problem, it’s the cost of living in Luxembourg, even with student housing.”
The discussion was in part due to the range of locations where the applicants are based, including South America (including one individual with Luxembourg nationality based in Brazil) and Bangladesh, a country in which even the top universities place low in world rankings. “I’m empathetic with the problems in those countries and would really like to help them,” she says.
“I think we have to build our reputation first and develop scholarships for students from poorer countries to be able to come, for those who are qualified.”
There are other challenges too: in addition to the country having “a huge problem with the number of women researchers”, van Dam estimates that around 50% of uni students at the bachelor’s level are non-Luxembourgers, but that this figure rises to around 90% at the PhD level. “Ideally, we would be introducing these things at the primary school level, starting to get more space studies into the curriculum of primary and secondary school, all the lycées, to make sure that Luxembourg nationals have the technical background to engage in the programme.”
But her overall outlook is positive. “It’s a matter of tying what we teach at the uni… making sure they know this is happening and giving them an idea on how to prepare.” She smiles, adding: “I’m hopeful.”