Brussels, 07 Jul 2006
Following quite a critical opinion on the proposed European Institute of Technology (EIT) in April 2005 by the European Research Advisory Board (EURAB), the Board appears to have come around to the concept, which it describes as 'an evolving target'.
In its first opinion, EURAB acknowledged the need to increase competitiveness in Europe through innovation, but put objectives such as increasing the budget for the framework programme and establishing the European Research Council (ERC). 'We indicated our doubts about the top-down nature of the EIT idea, which concentrated its efforts on 'bricks and mortar' more than content,' states the new opinion.
But since the first opinion, two rounds of consultation have taken place, and two communications have been published by the Commission. EURAB believes that many of its points have been taken on board, and states that the EIT now represents 'a good opportunity to create an instrument that is currently missing in a European portfolio in order to fill this gap and attempt to create a Europe that is competitive and attractive in world terms'.
EURAB does however maintain that other issues are just as important as the EIT, and in particular the reform of taxation systems, increasing the availability of venture capital in Europe, especially for science and technology-based innovation, reforming the intellectual property rights system, reforming the university system, and promoting education in entrepreneurship. 'An EIT alone will not solve the problem, but the European Commission initiative is an important contribution to its resolution,' says EURAB.
Given the complex nature of the EIT, EURAB calls for experience gained from activities carried out under Article 169 and the European Technology Platforms to be used to guide the EIT. Those involved should also look at successful 'mini-EITs' that already exist and national innovation agencies for advice, EURAB believes.
On the structure and governance of the EIT, EURAB argues that the EIT should not be regarded as an 'institution', but as an 'instrument'. The opinion also welcomes the 'light' structure proposed by the Commission, comprising an autonomous Governing Board with limited membership. Activities should be centred around the 'Knowledge Communities', it adds.
The Governing Board must comprise at least 50 per cent industrialists, and must be accountable to the EU and Member States. 'There is a need to ensure that, in some way, the views of 'end users', however defined, are taken into account and this may best be achieved through [...] a supervisory body,' believes EURAB.
For EURAB, Knowledge Communities (KCs) are at the core of the EIB concept. The KCs would bring together universities, research organisations, industry and regional authorities. To be selected as a KC, a region must have a proven track record, or should be able to demonstrate potential, particularly in terms of generating high-tech and sustainable small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
One of the most contentious proposals from the Commission has been that the EIT would award degrees. Despite criticism, this proposal has not been dropped. EURAB takes the view that 'It is difficult to see how the EIT structure itself can be a degree-awarding entity with the correct quality control.' Instead, each KC should have at least one strong academic partner, and this partner should set up one or several study programmes so that students may obtain a degree from that institution, says EURAB.
EURAB closes its opinion by offering further advice to the European Commission on the EIT. EURAB is ideally placed, representing both academia and industry equally. 'We believe that we represent an important example of the academic/industrial partnership in action and we take the liberty to offer our continuing advice to the Commission in the development of the EIT,' reads the opinion.