EU flagship project falters

April 9, 1999

Eureka, Europe's multimillion flagship programme for industrial research, faces "terminal decline" unless it is drastically restructured and academic researchers are given a bigger role on its projects.

A report out this week says Eureka, launched in the mid-1980s, has failed to adjust itself to big changes in research and development and innovation in Europe. The globalisation of industry and competitive pressures on firms have reduced businesses' capacity for long-term R&D.

Luke Georghiou, head of the multinational panel appointed by the Eureka programme to carry out the review, said that in the past five years university participation on programmes had declined by 25 per cent.

This fall must be addressed, he said. "One of the ways Eureka can ensure more of its research is ground-breaking is for it to build more partnerships with academia. The involvement of university researchers is also becoming more important in helping small and medium firms avoid short-term horizons for R&D."

Nearly 700 Eureka research projects worth E5.4 billion (Pounds 3.65 billion) are under way in member countries, including the European Union and countries across Central and Eastern Europe. More than 2,000 companies, almost 500 research institutes and 350 universities are involved.

According to Professor Georghiou, who is head of Manchester University's science and technology think-tank PREST, several possible futures are open to Eureka. The "business-as-usual" scenario would mean no change to the programme "either because some members do not perceive a problem or because of an inability to take action". The outcome of this is "a slow and undignified death" for the programme. An alternative is for Eureka managers to actively take a decision to kill off the programme.

More optimistic is the report's "relaunch and revitalisation" scenario. In this, industry is given a much bigger say on the programme's direction and its activities are broken up into distinctive "brands" managed as Eureka "satellite" schemes, which feature more academic involvement.

The report proposes, however, that this relaunch should be seen as a preparation for a full-blooded revamp of Eureka, which would focus on creating stronger links with non-European research schemes and providing more support for research results in small and medium firms.

Professor Georghiou said: "If the right decisions are made, there is a great opportunity here to improve the European market for innovation."

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