The proposed MER+ EMJMD is unique because, unlike other MSc programmes, its conceptual framework embraces the global marine environment as the basis for its academic foundations. Departing from expertise acquired through approaches to the marine environment at regional and European scales, the long-lasting experience of the MER Consortium Partners and Associates in the field of the marine environment relies on research, management and teaching activities carried out at global scale, including the majority of the diverse marine environments found in our oceans. To our knowledge European masters programmes provided elsewhere lack such a global marine environment framework and partnership.
Innovative conceptual framework
The MER+ programme is designed to confer on students a translational science approach, not available elsewhere in Europe. Accordingly, all the students receive advanced multidisciplinary courses (oceanography, biology, chemistry, geology, management) and a translational science viewpoint (from cellular and molecular biology, to large-scale processes or management). The module structure of the taught programme and its flexibility provides the student with the opportunity to develop his/her own curriculum; this can range between the marine physical or biological environments, to any combination between them. As such, the MER+ EMJMD enhances graduates’ competitiveness and becomes very attractive for new marine environmentalists within a worldwide context.
Innovative teaching and learning
Together with conventional lectures, seminars, and lab and field practices, novel educational practices have been adopted, including active learning modes such as problem-based learning exercises (i.e. Stareso Field Course), journal clubs and team-based learning, in order to improve student learning and knowledge retention. In addition, we use to-date facilities and ICT e.g. to stream lectures (e.g. during specific sessions of the RiMER Course) and vivas. In the latter, the presentations and debates are open to the general public as they can be followed on the air by video streaming using the UPV/EHU service, which is duly announced (e.g. to external supervisors, associates, former students, community of the partner university, …) together with the vivas programme.
University excellence in the European Higher Education Area
The MER MSc and its successor MER EMMC were pioneering programmes in university excellence and good practices, following guidelines of the Bologna process and accompanying actions. Student-centred learning was pursued, since the very beginning. Each student is offered an individually-tailored formation programme, including coursework, research and mobility-schedule; this is agreed before registration and is recognised in the Student Agreement. The high staff-student ratios (>5:1) and the excellence of the laboratory facilities, instrumentation, and research-active staff (see Teaching Staff and Partnership) are favourable conditions for this purpose (www.eua.be). Excellence has been recognised by Spanish and French authorities. The MER MSc is a recipient of the Quality Award by the Spanish Ministry (2008-2012); it has been recognized as an Excellent French-Spanish MSc, by both French and Spanish Ministries (2008-2010). In 2012, we have obtained the Mediterranean Office for Youth (MOY) label. Further, it was top MSc (1/~70) in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country every year whilst this ranking was in force in the period 2006-2014.
Since the academic year 2012-2013 the MER EMMC has been running under the Erasmus Mundus (later on Erasmus+) brand, which allowed us to successfully face our then major challenge to make our master programme more accessible to students all over the world. Since then >250 students from >50 non-EU countries have followed the programme (35% from outside Europe), 170 of them have already graduated by September 2016 and in the academic year 30 of them enrolled as self-funded students (Fig. Section 4.1). These numbers are reflected in two stories of success. Last June 2016 we celebrated the 10 yr MER event; and 60% of our graduates, both from Programme and Partner countries and representing the 10 MER cohorts.
MER+ EMJMD is a new programme benefiting from the experience gained in delivering the MER EMMC programme, specifically designed to take a multidisciplinary approach in marine environmental research and management. The new programme will enhance internationalization, and improve learning and employment outcomes through the support mechanisms already in place at the participating institutions.
Competitiveness in marine environment research and management
The MER+ EMJMD contributes to European visibility and cooperation with non-European institutions. A large part of the MER+ EMJMD taught programme is centred upon the Bay of Biscay. This geographical area is an invaluable asset, since crucial scientific issues (integrated coastal zone management, assessment of marine ecosystem health, protection and recovery of marine and estuary environments, operational oceanography systems) can be investigated (as a field research model system). This region is under the OSPAR agreement, related to MEDPOL-UNEP activities; it provides the students following the MER+ courses with an integrated, multidisciplinary perspective of marine environmental problems, relevant within the European context. Here we are developing a multidisciplinary research strategy that fits 100% with the thematic scope of the MER+ EMJMD and involves the UB marine station (Arcachon) and the UPV/EHU marine station (Plentzia) as main partners in the Aquitaine-Euskadi Euro-region, the central one in the Bay of Biscay (Turquoise: University Hub for fostering Blue growth and green innovation in the Bay of Biscay; AEE 2017-2018). An opportunity is available to students to gain knowledge about an extensive and socio-economically relevant marine area, within Europe.
Moreover, MER+ MSc provides the students with the opportunity to compare with other marine areas both in Europe and overseas, during the research phase of the programme (MSc Thesis). Considerable effort has been undertaken to involve European Partners with experience in the North and Baltic Seas (NIVA, SYKE, CEFAS, IFREMER, HI) and the Mediterranean Sea (CSIC, Stareso, UoAg), as well as in every oceanic region of the world. During their independent research phase, MER+ MSc students are encouraged to apply, to any other region in the world, the integrated perspective acquired in the Bay of Biscay. The extended MER Consortium for the MER+ EMJMD consists of Associated partners from all the oceans worldwide. This is extremely interesting for potential collaboration, in teaching and research of the marine environment, between European and non-European institutions.
The compulsory RiMER course constitutes an excellent example of the uniqueness, attractiveness, innovation, competitiveness, visibility, cooperation with non-European universities and good practices. All the MER+ students meet in an emblematic venue, the Auditorium of the Donostia-San Sebastian Aquarium (Basque Country), for 1 week at the start of semester 2 and in the Plentzia Marine Station (UPV/EHU) for 1 week at the end of semester 2, with >40 lecturers, MER+ students from the previous cohort and those MER Consortium graduates carrying out their PhD, academic and research staff from Partners and Associated Partners, and invited lecturers from Europe and overseas. The main topics are integrated coastal zone management, global climate crisis, marine ecosystem health, conservation of biodiversity and environmental-resources interactions. Lectures are combined with tutorials, round-table type workshops and a “cinephorum” session. An innovative teaching schedule, based upon 4-5 lectures per day, with a Round-table where the students ask questions and discuss with the day’s staff panel for 1-2 hours, was successfully developed during the MER EMMC programme. Now MER+ is aimed at including the participation of stakeholders with their participation in round tables and satellite activities such as visits to their premises or small exhibition fairs organised around the celebration of the RiMER course. Social and cultural integration is also pursued: all the students stay in the same residence, whilst a course dinner and cultural activities for students/staff are organised. Many students have been shown to establish contacts for their future career, during this venue.
The majority of the students follow Semester 3 in ULiège and they must attend a Field trip to STARESO as a part of the compulsory taught activities. This course is conceived as student centred teaching and problem-based learning, and aims at promoting independence and decision making, and at creating an interdisciplinary and researcher community framework. Students live together for one-week in the remote STARESO Marine Station (Corsica, France), where they follow class-lessons, diving sessions and personal and team work. The course is built as a transversal interdisciplinary approach of an environmental problem, with practical aspects, technical problems solving, reference search, etc. The students must solve the problem through team-work and the teachers are there only for assistance and experienced expert support. Teams are organised to promote intercultural and interdisciplinary exchanges (whenever possible comorised by students of diverse cultural and academic origin, and gender-balanced). At the end of the week, each team makes a public oral presentation that is also attended by all the Stareso staff (senior scientists, PhD candidates, technical staff).