EU technology institute approved

European Parliament agrees the future of a continental equivalent to MIT. Zoe Corbyn reports

March 20, 2008

The creation of Europe's flagship technology institute, the EIT, was officially confirmed last week.

The future of the EIT, which was conceived as a European rival to the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was assured when the European Parliament agreed a "common position" on the institute with EU member states.

Its activities are now expected to begin in summer, having been delayed from a January start.

The main issue outstanding, and on which the European Union's heads of government must decide, is where to locate its administrative headquarters. The Polish, Hungarian and Austrian governments have made bids, but there is no frontrunner. Strasbourg in France has also been mooted by MEPs as a possibility.

The project has evolved greatly since it was first put forward - to a distinctly lukewarm reception - by the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso.

The original name, the European Institute of Technology, has been abandoned in favour of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, although the original EIT acronym will be retained, "so parallels could be drawn to MIT", said a source close to the plans.

There have also been significant changes to its substance. Rather than being a physical institute such as MIT, it will consist of virtual "knowledge and innovation communities" of universities, research organisations and businesses working in areas such as climate change, renewable energies and information and communication technologies.

The plan is for a governing board of EIT stakeholders to select two or three KICs towards the end of 2009, with a consultation to select the board due to get under way shortly.

Plans for the EIT to award degrees have been abandoned, although, the agreed wording says, "universities who take part in a KIC are encouraged to add an EIT label to the degrees and diplomas they award".

Finance has been the biggest sticking point. While the intention is to obtain public and private funding, the commission had struggled to identify where the public finance will come from.

A Commission spokesman said that €300 million (£234 million) of the €308.7 million of public money budgeted for the EIT up to 2013 will come from "unallocated margins" of the EU budget (unspent money from various sources).

Giles Chichester, Conservative MEP for the South West of England, said: "The added value offered by the EIT has not been demonstrated. Nor has the source of funding. This proposal seeks to emulate the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while ignoring the fact that the MIT is privately financed and not state-owned, which is a principal reason for its success."

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