Advantages in defensive advance

October 23, 1998

A revamped Eureka, which aims to give Europe's industry an edge over the US, is likely to embrace defence research, says Kam Patel

Universities could be the big winners from a rethink of the Pounds 300 million pan-European Eureka research programme, which could allow the initiative to put money into defence research for the first time.

The rethink will change the programme's mandate, which restricts it to supporting collaborative civilian research by industry, often in partnership with universities. The Eureka secretariat in Brussels has set up a panel of independent experts to consider the programme's future. The group is led by Luke Georghiou, head of Manchester University's science and technology think-tank PREST. "We have been asked to think the unthinkable," Professor Georghiou says.

Eureka was set up by national European governments, but it is not part of the European Union's research effort, spearheaded by the Framework projects. At the time of its launch in the mid-1980s, Eureka was seen as a vehicle for European firms to compete with the United States, where companies were beginning to feel the benefits of technology transfer resulting from the so-called Star Wars defence programme. By 1996, Eureka had completed 360 projects with a value of Pounds 3.7 billion. Now, more than 3,500 partners are involved in 720 projects with a total value of nearly Pounds 8 billion.

Professor Georghiou says that at the time Eureka began, defence firms were less collaborative, working mainly at a national level or in narrow alliances. The end of the cold war changed that, Professor Georghiou says. "The feeling is that the European landscape has changed, defence firms no longer operate totally on their own or as exclusive alliances. It is much more distributed. This has led to a belief that Eureka needs repositioning with regards to defence research."

In the 1990s transnational cooperation between the primary European defence firms has increased, but Professor Georghiou says this has been largely at a corporate level. Less attention has been paid to the research needs of the industry as a whole, especially among the small and medium-sized firms that make up the supplier network. He adds: "It has to be remembered that the defence industry is not globalised in the same way as, say, biotechnology. Despite all the changes that have taken place, there is still stiff, clear-cut competition between US and European defence firms. It could be argued that this lends even more importance to having a vehicle for encouraging more collaborative R&D."

Another change in the past ten to 15 years has been defence firms' increasing reliance on civilian technologies. The rise of these "dual-use" technologies has helped transform thinking on the relationship between civilian and defence firms. "These days any civilian programme that supports research into state-of-the-art IT and electronics is, almost by definition, likely to have an impact on the development of defence systems," Professor Georghiou says.

The Eureka rethink will also look at ways of increasing industrial collaboration with academic researchers. The programme has a history of links with universities, but the Eureka secretariat wants them strengthened substantially. Professor Georghiou says: "University participation has fallen by 25 per cent in five years. While this is probably explained by more small and medium-sized firms taking part, it is nevertheless a big concern."

Francois Sand, a member of the Eureka secretariat in Brussels, echoes Georghiou's concerns: "We are in essence industry-led. What we want to do is help change the mind-set of firms, to impress upon them that working with university researchers is valuable. There has been, particularly on the continent, a split between universities and industry that you do not find in the US. It is not for us to say what universities should do, but there is scope for them to develop their own identity with more emphasis on marketing their skills to industry."

The United Kingdom as a whole has always been keen on Eureka programmes. In 1997, it was the fourth biggest member of the scheme, involved in 146 projects through 2 organisations, including 195 firms and 39 universities. Professor Georghiou has just completed this year's review of Eureka's impact. While concerns about university involvement remain, the broad findings are encouraging. They include:

* 90 per cent of industrial participants in Eureka rate their technical achievements as "excellent" or "good"

* Almost half of the firms report a commercial impact from a project before its completion; 70 per cent said they had come up with new products or processes by the project's end

* More than 50 per cent of SMEs secured commercial benefit by the end of the project, compared with 37 per cent of large firms

* Three-quarters of industrial participants said they had acquired "new knowledge" as a result of a Eureka project

* More than 1,730 new jobs were reported as a result of Eureka activity.

The review also says the most important reasons cited by participants for taking part in the scheme was the prestige of the Eureka label. This was particularly so for SMEs. Projects are funded partly by government: in the UK, the Department of Trade and Industry funds up to 50 per cent of costs. The report warns, however, that SMEs across Europe continue to face a "development gap" caused by lack of finance and marketing capability.

EXAMPLES OF EUREKA PROJECTS INVOLVING UNIVERSITIES

Project Develop non-linear, optical surface-specific immunoassay formats.

Partners Kings College London, Robert Gordon University, Hook & Turner Instruments Ltd.

Cost ECU 900,000 (Pounds 640,000)

Project Develop fibre-reinforced plastics for rail suspensions.

Partners PlymouthUniversity, ChelseaInstruments Ltd, Chelsea Environmental Ltd and Blackdown Consultants.

Cost ECU 2 million

Project Develop computer-based integrated manufacturing systems for structural steelwork industry.

Partners Universities of Leeds, Nottingham and Reading; Taywood Construction Ltd; Acecad Software Ltd; QSE Ltd; Steel ConstructionInstitute.

Cost ECU 47 million

Project Improve mechanical, wear and corrosion resistance properties of sintered stainless steel components.

Partners Universities of Bradford and Nottingham; M4 Technologies Ltd; Manganese Bronze Components Ltd; Cego Ltd; GTB Ltd.

Cost ECU 2 million

Project (Completed) Improve understanding of maximum power outputs for solid-state lasers for manufacturing use.

Partners Heriot-Watt University; Lumonics Ltd.

Cost ECU 13 million

MEMBERS AND ORGANISATIONSIN EUREKA PROJECTS, 1997

Member No. projects Industry Universities

Austria 86 81 24

Belgium 88 85 20

Czech Republic 30 23 7

Denmark 89 82 12

Finland 53 82 12

France 200 319 21

Germany 208 255 45

Greece 12 8 4

Hungary 32 18 7

Iceland 8 10 0

Ireland 14 12 4

Italy 75 101 12

Luxembourg 2 2 0

Netherlands 152 189 22

Norway 58 59 3

Poland 23 8 6

Portugal 39 35 7

Romania 7 6 2

Russia 24 17 3

Slovenia 21 17 4

Spain 112 136 15

Sweden 117 111 10

Switzerland 110 149 43

Turkey 15 16 7

United Kingdom 146 195 39

Euro. Commission 6 0 0

Non-member

countries 25 15 10

Total 651 2,031 339

Source: PREST

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