Blog of Random Thoughts and Pictures

Assessment of the feasibility and possible impact of the establishment of a European Institute of Technology

June 22nd, 2007

Completed in March 2007, this report analyses the feasibility of the European Institute of Technology [EIT] (pdf) as proposed by the European Commission and positions it in the context of existing universities, research establishments and institutions and programmes for supporting innovation and technology transfer in Europe.
The main points coming out:-
1) The relative weakness of Europe to convert knowledge into commerce and critical mass or to
reward entrepreneurship and excellence in research and education is not a problem that is the
same for all countries, all regions or all institutions … and that smaller European countries, Finland, France, Spain and Germany perform significantly better than or as good as the US and Japan.
2) Three basic organizational models exist for an EIT. A fully centralized EIT on one location is the first. The Commission proposal opts for the fully decentralized one where research, training and supporting innovation in one Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) is carried out by a large number of teams across Europe.
The report proposes a third option, a cluster model for the EIT. This option consists of multiple institutes or KICs – to derive the terminology of the Commission’s proposal – but each being physically concentrated at one or only a very small number of adjacent locations. The various institutes are knot together only by a funding instrument and a brand name.
3) Knowledge production is ‘joint production’: private and public investments in knowledge have strong complementarities and geographically strong agglomeration features.Under the prevailing conditions, the cluster model has the greatest potential to strengthen the main local/regional agglomeration aspects of joint knowledge production within the research areas turning them into attractor poles for knowledge workers.
4) Europe’s score in university rankings shows that EU universities are underrepresented in the top 40 or 50 ranked universities. Source: The Shanghai JiaotongUniversity ranking 2006.
And for my own reference the Ranking Methodology used.
While Europe has several top tier universities of high quality offering excellence over a broad range of subjects. Where they differ from US equivalents is in their selectivity of admission, share of undergraduate and graduate students (apart from a few exceptions such as ETH Z), size of research budgets, and to a lesser extent, in their level of interdisciplinarity which might be related to the much narrower bachelor curricula in Europe. it is clear that over the past 15 years, many universities have been actively engaged in projects to collaborate with industry and commercialise the knowledge that they developed.
6) Several large-scale co-operative schemes exist at the European level which companies, universities and research centres find attractive and effective for joint technology development underpinning future innovation, such as the EUREKA Clusters, FP6 Integrated Projects FP7 Joint Technology Initiatives, and National Programmes such as those in the UK, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Belgium, and France.
7) Impact: The report points out that there may be significant substitution problems. In several important fields where a KIC would most likely be considered, instruments already exist or are under construction to promote collaborative research, technology development and technology transfer. EUREKA clusters are a case in point, where partners may not see the advantage of being replaced by a KIC. The Joint Technology Initiatives currently being formed under the FP7 would also appear to compete with any potential KIC given the fact that the differences between these two entities are not clear enough. It notes, but do not simply adhere to the views expressed by some companies that a KIC will complement rather than compete with such initiatives.
The limited impact that a KIC, hence the EIT, would have on the quality of graduate training, research and, industry-university-research institute collaboration, coupled with the substitution effects, suggests that the EIT through its KICs cannot easily develop into a reference for the existing top tier universities or research institutes in Europe. Its dispersed nature would not assist the universities and national governments in their quest for reforms leading to for example, increased differentiation, autonomy and better governance, or for more effective technology transfer practices.
Given these points this is not what I read from the headline of a recent IEEE Spectrum article “U.N. EXPERTS DISMISS VIRTUAL EUROPEAN “MIT”“.
And the EU seem to be motoring ahead anyway with a “Call for pilot projects for cooperation between European Institutes of Technology” in which at least three partner organisations must participate to form a KIC, each of which must be established in a different EU member state