The European Commission will press ahead with plans to establish a European Institute of Technology, ignoring critics who claim the project could dilute Europe's hard-pressed research budgets.
José Manuel Barroso, the European Union Commission president, and Ján Figel, the Education Commissioner, said a forthcoming EU summit would be asked to approve the idea.
Following lengthy public consultation, Brussels has decided to avoid the Massachusetts Institute of Technology model that is the EIT's inspiration. Instead, it proposes that the institute's research be carried out by a system of "knowledge communities" - small organisations working in strategically important areas such as nanotechnology that require input from a range of disciplines.
The knowledge communities would bring together specialists from universities, research centres and companies from across Europe. Funding would come from the EU, its member states and the private sector. A decision on the EIT headquarters location will be made later.
Mr Barroso, who launched the plan on Wednesday, said: "Excellence needs flagships: that's why Europe must have a strong European Institute of Technology."
Drummond Bone, president of Universities UK, welcomed the Commission's commitment to science, but said: "Universities are worried that this project could draw valuable funds away from the European Research Council that will be crucial for the future of high-level European research."
Peter Cotgreave, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK, said: "Rather than invent some new institution, we should invest in the places of excellence we already have."