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Brussels, 22 February 2006

Frequently Asked Questions : Why does the EU need a European Institute of Technology ?

In a Communication to the European Council adopted on 22 February, the Commission is proposing 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 proposed is based on a wide public consultation, and is put forward for consideration by the European Council.

1. Why does the Commission propose creating 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 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 proposing 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. On the supply side, the EU is lacking in both the quality and the usability of knowledge outcomes. In particular, the gap between research outcomes and their application is still wide. Good research is being carried out in Europe, but is too often exploited elsewhere as it is not picked up by industry. On the other side, 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. What were the results of the public consultation on the EIT?

In September 2005, the European Commission launched a public consultation which sought to address four main questions related to the mission and objectives of the EIT, its potential added value, structure and scientific priorities. More than 700 contributions were posted on the Europa website from a wide range of organisations and individuals from university, research and business sectors as well as public authorities and NGOs.

There seems to be a general agreement that the EIT should perform postgraduate education, research and innovation in emerging inter-disciplinary fields and thereby strengthen the integration of these aspects..

Another point of agreement is that the EIT should have a rather integrated structure and a well defined identity. However, many respondents suggest that rather than being created from scratch the EIT should be based on existing resources. Strong support was also given to the innovation dimension and to closer links with the business community.

4. How would the EIT look?

The EIT will be based on an innovative two-level organization: a light-weight central governing body, concerned with the strategy, budget, selection and evaluation of knowledge communities; and a system of knowledge communities, each performing research, education and innovation activities in inter-disciplinary strategic areas. The knowledge communities will bring together teams (rather than institutions) from universities, research centres and companies all over Europe. The human and physical resources will be seconded to the EIT and will become legally part of the EIT.

The central governing body will be managed by a governing board composed of top personalities from the science and business sectors.

The EIT will be established by a formal legal instrument. This instrument will give the EIT its legal personality and independence from national regulation and will provide the framework to allow the proper management of its core business and the necessary accountability to the EU institutions.

Funding will be provided by different sources including the EU, the Member States and the business community.

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 not based on the traditional single institution model. From a legal point of view, the EIT will have the features of a single institution but it will operate at local level in the dynamic framework of the “knowledge communities” geographically dispersed all over Europe.

The organisational model proposed will promote excellence by making the most of existing resources, creating critical mass across Europe and ensuring that there are effective synergies between the various partners involved.

These resources (human and physical) would be provided by partner organisations such as universities, research centres and companies. They would be seconded to the EIT meaning that they will cease to be part of their home organisation and will become legally part of the EIT for a certain period. Doing so is important to ensure the maximum level of co-operation, which will in term make the best use of those resources.

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 European Research Council ?

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 is a proposal under the Seventh Framework Programme. It 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 multidisciplinary basis, and with a strong emphasis on economic and social 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. What would be the role of the various actors involved: European Commission, Member States (including local authorities), Universities, businesses?

The European Commission will propose the legal instrument to establish the EIT and will provide support for its development.

The universities and the companies may consider applying to become partners by seconding resources (human, and physical) for the establishment of the Knowledge Communities.

Member States (including local authorities) may decide to support these knowledge communities by providing additional resources (such as infrastructure).

10. Where will it be located? How big would it be?

It is too early to answer these questions; the priority at this moment is to define how the EIT will operate in concrete terms.

11. What are the next steps?

The Member States are invited to consider the elements in the Communication during the Spring European Council 2006, with further consultation in the second semester of 2006. The target is to adopt the legal instrument establishing the EIT in 2008, at the latest. Subsequently, the Governing Board would be appointed in early 2009, along with the first staff of the central governing body. The first identification of the knowledge communities should then be done by 2009, and the first substantial expenditure will take place by 2010 at the earliest.

Annex : Structure of the EIT

More information :
Annex 1: The Structure of the European Institute of Technology

[Graphic in PDF & Word format]
[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

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