Euro 'MIT' plan finds few backers

October 21, 2005

The European Commission's idea of creating a European Institute of Technology (EIT) to rival the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has sparked hostility and scepticism among universities.

Brussels is consulting widely on the idea, which was proposed in the mid-term review of the Lisbon Process "as a pole of attraction for the best minds, ideas and companies from around the world".

The European University Association (EUA) is consulting members about its position. Its spokeswoman, Elizabeth Tapper, said there was concern that "the funding of an EIT could prove problematic given that the proposed increased budget for Framework 7 (the next European research funding round) is under threat".

This could affect support for the European Research Council, "an instrument that European universities consider crucial for the development of their research efforts", she added.

Universities UK said it shared the concerns of the European Research Advisory Board (Eurab) that a world-class institute could not be created from the top down. "Any resources earmarked for an EIT would be better redirected to the ERC," a spokesman said. "Better science will flow from a well-funded ERC, which will ensure that the European Union is able to support excellent research."

Eurab pointed out the folly of trying to model the proposed European institute on MIT, saying the latter had grown steadily over a long time by cultivating links with existing research communities, supported by incentives for research and innovation.

Neil Selwyn, a senior lecturer in information technology and society at Cardiff School of Social Sciences, said governments were "notoriously poor brokers of technology projects" that often ignored advice on technology.

"The Commission may bring along too much baggage for an institute like this to function well," he said.

Another leading academic said the proposed EIT was likely to compete with the ERC not only for funding but also in the allocation of big research projects, which could result in loss of direction in the EU scientific community. "The Commission's analysis is sound, but the proposed solution is not sensible," he said.

None of this will hearten J n Figel, the EU Education Commissioner, who has said that an EIT "could play an innovative role in supporting knowledge transfer and in attracting the best researchers and companies from around the world to work in partnership".

The EUA Council was to consider the issue at its meeting in Uppsala, Sweden, this week. The Commission's online consultation ends on November 15.


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