Frequently Asked Questions: new steps towards a European Institute of Technology

June 9, 2006

Brussels, 8 June 2006

In a Communication to the European Council adopted on 22 February, the Commission proposed to set up a new flagship for excellence in higher education, research and innovation: the European Institute of Technology. Originally put forward in 2005 as part of the mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy, the idea is further developed in a new Communication to the European Council adopted today. This is based on a wide consultation with Member States and stakeholders and responds to the invitation in the Spring Council conclusions to outline the next steps on the EIT.

1. Why did the Commission propose a new institute?

In February 2005, President Barroso presented the idea of the European Institute of Technology (EIT) as part of the mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy. Since then, the Commission has conducted a wide-ranging consultation of experts, Member States, European stakeholders and the general public. The Commission’s analysis shows that the EU needs to work harder to integrate all the parts of the knowledge triangle: education, research and innovation. In particular, the Commission stresses:

  • the difficulty Europe has in translating R&D results into commercial opportunities,
  • the difficulty in reaching critical mass in certain fields,
  • the fragmentation of the EU’s research and higher education system, which means that it does not necessarily make the most of the excellence that exists in Europe,
  • the lack of innovation and entrepreneurial culture in research and higher education,
  • the lack of critical mass and innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises.
To address these weaknesses, the Commission is therefore proposed a new institute:

i. A new institute can pool existing resources and talented people to achieve the critical mass needed to be amongst the best in the world.

ii. The talent and R&D expenditure of EU-based private companies is too often attracted by opportunities in third countries. A centre of excellence with a strong European identity can help reverse this trend, by providing an attractive context for both academic and industrial researchers.

iii. Newly emerging inter-disciplinary fields require new dynamic and flexible working and governance models. A new institute can act as a model for change, exemplifying the benefits of a modern, flexible structure.

2. What are the origins of the problem?

There are problems both on the supply and demand side of the knowledge triangle in the EU. In particular, the gap between research outcomes and their application is still wide. On the supply side, the EU is lacking in both the quality and the usability of knowledge outcomes. On the demand side, where good research is being carried out in Europe, is too often exploited elsewhere as it is not picked up by industry. There is not enough demand in Europe for research outcomes.

A further problem is the fragmentation of Europe’s university-based research. There are nearly 2,000 universities in the EU aspiring to be research-active. While not wholly comparable, less than 10% of higher education institutions in the US award postgraduate degrees, and even fewer claim to be research-intensive universities. Given the lower level of spending on education and R&D in Europe compared to the US, this means that in Europe there are more actors seeking a slice of a smaller cake. The US arrangement leads to a concentration of resources and people that achieves critical mass in those few institutions concerned, and helps them to be amongst the best in the world. Another simple demonstration of this problem is that few EU institutions are mentioned in top positions in the leading international rankings of universities.

3. Why is the Commission adopting a new Communication on the EIT? Were Member States and stakeholders consulted?

On March 23rd the European Council recognized that the EIT is an important step to fill the existing gap between higher education, research and innovation, together with other actions that enhance networking and synergy between excellent research and innovation communities in Europe and invited the Commission to submit a proposal on further steps by mid June 2006.

Following the European Council, the Commission has reflected further on the concept, and in particular on the issues raised by Member States and stakeholders. It has organised a series of consultation meetings to give all parties a chance to discuss the proposal and its rationale, and to hear their feedback. During this consultation process, general agreement has emerged on the Commission’s background analysis of gaps and needs as well as the need for a concerted effort to harness Europe’s capacity in the knowledge triangle of education, research and innovation to improve its competitiveness.

The consultation brought into focus a number of specific issues about the proposed structure of the EIT and its legal base and status, the degrees it might issue, its funding sources and its relation to current and future EU initiatives. The present communication responds to the issues raised during the consultation process. It provides further information about aspects of the proposal and sets out, where appropriate, suggestions for addressing them. This Communication clarifies what can be made clear now while, at the same time, indicating where the approach must remain open. The Communication aims to support a more focused consultation with Member States and stakeholders in the months ahead in order to firmly anchor the vision and rationale for the EIT.

4. How will the EIT look?

The EIT will be based on an innovative two-level structure: a central governing body, (with a light supporting structure and a physical headquarters) which will identify strategic societal and economic challenges and select – on a competitive basis - Knowledge Communities to address them. Knowledge Communities represent the operational part of the EIT. These are envisaged as integrated partnerships of excellent teams and departments from universities and the business and research sectors which will have a medium/long term (10-15 years) education, research and innovation agenda in a wide strategic interdisciplinary field. These resources will be associated with the EIT on the base of a wide range of retaining and rewarding mechanisms that range from direct employment, through secondment (a medium term arrangement under which an individual works for a given period at another institution, with a variety of possible employment arrangements and “rights to return”), to loose links such as dual affiliation (where an individual keeps his “home” employment but is technically attached to the affiliating organization as well), or temporary attachments (e.g. sabbaticals).

The Commission suggests that all these options should be open to the EIT and the Knowledge Communities. However, a sufficient commitment from the staff working within Knowledge Communities to the EIT itself, to its identity and to its ongoing success must be guaranteed at the selection stage, and it will be important to have a common employment framework (covering issues such as remuneration, working conditions, IPR, etc.). Within that framework, Knowledge Communities should have the freedom to organise their human resources as is most appropriate. The Governing Board should define the EIT’s overall policy and strategic agenda, identifying the main thematic areas within which it should work, and selecting, establishing, monitoring and evaluating the Knowledge Communities. It should set the EIT’s general rules and ensure coordination between the different Knowledge Communities. It should decide upon the overall EIT budget and allocate it to the Knowledge Communities on the basis of the progress demonstrated by monitoring and evaluation. The Governing Board should be limited in number and its members should provide an even balance between scientific and business experience. Members would be nominated ‘ad personam’, with no representative function whatsoever. The Board might be assisted by external advisory committees supporting its decision-making process.

The process of selecting the members of the Governing Board should be transparent and based solely on criteria of excellence in science and innovation.

5. Why do the resources need to be concentrated in a single institution? Will those resources be taken away from other institutions?

The concept of the EIT is unique as it blends the benefits of a single institution with those of a network. As a single institution, resources will be working according to common rules and will pursue common goals set by the EIT. This will ensure that the EIT members will be committed to the achievement of its goals and will be able to work in an innovative and dynamic context. As a network, the EIT will be based on top class teams all over Europe, and will ensure a fruitful synergy with those organizations to which these teams belong. This will ensure that the EIT does not reinvent the wheel, as it will create synergy between the existing poles of excellence in Europe.

To achieve this balance and ensure that it will represent a win win opportunity for partners organisations, a series of mechanisms will be put in place.

First, Knowledge Communities should have the freedom to organise their human resources as is most appropriate to ensure the right balance between the commitment to the EIT and a clear benefit for partner organizations.

Second, besides this flexible approach to human resources, a number of additional mechanisms will ensure that being involved in the EIT is a valuable opportunity for partner organizations.

  • for a general, research-intensive university, the EIT would make financial resources available to Knowledge Communities; participating universities and research centres could thus do more, more rapidly, than would have been possible without these additional resources. Furthermore, the close partnership within a Knowledge Community and the integration of business would enable a more effective sharing of knowledge and its use through innovation.
  • for universities whose excellence is more specifically focussed, such as regionally or innovation directed universities, the above benefits would also apply. In addition, the educational activities of the EIT would help increase the attractiveness of the host university.
  • for companies and specialised research centres, the attraction might be strongest in areas of higher risk and uncertainty. The EIT should encourage companies to invest and be directly involved at an earlier stage of research than they might otherwise do, or to invest in more speculative, long-term fields. At the same time, the education activities of the Knowledge Community would enable companies to contribute to the education of students and make their knowledge more relevant for starting their professional career or their own enterprise. The close involvement of business in defining the Knowledge Community agenda would ensure the relevance for them of research outcomes, and support the development of new commercial opportunities. For small and medium-sized enterprises in the regions where Knowledge Communities operate will gain from the availability of a larger human capital pool, the ability to use technical services provided by the EIT, start-up and spin-off opportunities, cluster activities and easier access to venture capital.
More generally, EIT affiliation and the availability (in due course) of a critical mass of EIT-managed IPR, would prove attractive to potential participants in the fields concerned.

6. What would be the added-value of an EIT?

The EIT will bring added value in three ways:

  • It will offer the private sector a new relationship with education and research that goes beyond what exists today with many European universities. A closer relationship with business will bring new opportunities for the research that is carried out to be used to develop actual products that can be sold within Europe and abroad, and used to enhance our quality of life and global competitiveness. By integrating universities, research centres and companies, the EIT will have an edge over traditionally organised universities. It will also bring significant opportunities to attract private finance to the EIT.
  • It will concentrate on combining the three sides of the knowledge triangle. They will be inseparably linked, because of the EIT’s nature and its mix of partners. This will direct its teaching and its research into new and more productive directions.
  • It will represent a concentration of resources, and thus be able to overcome a serious challenge in matching the highest standards achieved elsewhere. Its actions will be based on excellence, and it will thus be one further way in which Europe can make the most of its resources for R&D.
7. What’s the difference between the EIT and the ERC?

The EIT will be a knowledge operator, not a funding agency as such. It will carry out activities around the three parts of the knowledge triangle: it will educate, do research, and seek to apply the outcomes of that research to commercial ends. While existing funding programmes concentrate on the individual “points” of the knowledge triangle (the Erasmus Programme is about education; the Framework Programme is about research; and the Community Innovation Programme is about innovation-related activities), the EIT will take a hands-on approach to join up these three elements and make them more inter-linked. The EIT complements the funding programmes; it is not competing with them.

The European Research Council, proposed under the Seventh Framework Programme, will provide funding to research projects which push forward the frontiers of our knowledge, taking us into new areas. It will fund individual teams or even individuals, on the basis of the sole criterion of excellence. It will be open to all fields of science, using essentially a bottom-up approach, overseen by representatives of the scientific community, working autonomously. The EIT’s mission is different. It will be an institution working in the fields of education, research and innovation on a transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary basis, and with a strong emphasis on economic and societal outcomes. Individuals seconded to the EIT would of course be free to apply to the ERC for funding, as to any other funding agency at international, European or national level. But such individuals would have no preferential access over individuals not linked to the EIT, and their applications would be judged solely on excellence, like all the rest.

8. What’s the difference between the Knowledge Communities and the Networks of Excellence financed by the Framework Programme?
There are also key differences between the Knowledge Communities and the networks of excellence under the 6th framework Programme. While participants in the Networks of Excellence simply agree to cooperate, the EIT involves a much closer relationship. Institutions and companies will not merely be connected and exchanging information; they will be working together on a daily basis towards common objectives.

9. Where will the EIT be located?

The decision on the location of the Governing Board will be taken at a later stage, by the Member States, based on criteria to be outlined and defined in the legislative proposal.

10. Why should the EIT issue diplomas and degrees?

The EIT should be able to award degrees and diplomas. They would constitute a visible manifestation of the Institute and an incentive to attract students and researchers to participate in its programmes. The EIT must act as a pole of attraction for the best minds from around the world. Awarding high quality degrees would strengthen its identity and help it to become widely recognized, and thus to act as a model for promoting change across the European Higher Education Area.

The legal instrument should provide for the award of degrees and require the Governing Board to set in place procedures guaranteeing the quality of its degree courses. This could be based on models used within Member States in the context of the Bologna process. Member States should, on this basis, recognize these degrees. Recognition of EIT degrees by Member States will strengthen the status, visibility and attractiveness of the EIT, both inside the EU and outside it, and will facilitate the mobility of students.

11. What are the next steps?

This new Communication will be presented to the European Council in June.

After the summer, the European Commission shall present an impact assessment for the EIT, which will be followed by a formal proposal which will outline, among other key issues, criteria for the location of the Governing Board and detail the budget for the Institute.

The target is to adopt the legal instrument establishing the EIT in 2008, at the latest. Subsequently, the Governing Board could be appointed in early 2009, along with the first staff of the central governing body. The identification of the first knowledge communities should then be done by 2009, so they start their activities for the 2009-2010 academic year.
More information:

Item source: MEMO/06/233 Date: 08/06/2006

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