The European University Association (EUA) has criticised European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker for “hardly featur[ing]…research, innovation and higher education” in his 2016 State of the Union Address.
Although acknowledging that the speech – delivered in Strasbourg on 14 September – “set[s] out a plan to strengthen investment to support jobs and growth, specifically through an extension and amplification of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI)”, the EUA argues that “vital areas for investment…should be given higher priority”.
The EUA also “strongly doubts” that the Commission’s goals “will be achievable” without diverting more money towards “the knowledge creation and new skills needed to improve Europe’s economy”.
In a review titled “One year of EFSI: What’s in it for universities?”, the EUA considers plans to renew the EFSI for a longer period and with a larger budget and claims that “the scheme is not benefiting the research and higher education sector”.
“Investments through EFSI have not significantly contributed to the development of Europe’s knowledge base or the development of Europe’s human potential,” the EUA says.
This represents a significant lost opportunity, according to the EUA, given that “universities, supported by appropriate funding mechanisms, are active players in innovation that work together with other partners, such as industry and SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises], to address societal needs and develop new technologies, and thus, help create viable business opportunities in Europe”.
To establish the EFSI – which aims to leverage public and private investment to boost the Continent’s economy – €2.2 billion (£1.87 billion) was taken out of the EU’s flagship science and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, a move that was met with criticism from universities at the time.
The EUA review concludes with three action points for the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council, namely to “avoid taking any more money from Horizon 2020 and feed unused money from EFSI back to those parts that foster basic and collaborative research through grants”; to “increase highly successful grant programmes to fund academic research and education instead of further developing financial instruments and loan schemes”; and to “continue the EFSI initiative only if it really delivers on the assumed leverage effect and proves to unleash private investment”.