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Universities put forward own proposals for European Institute of Technology

The League of European Research Universities (LERU) has outlined its views on how a European Institute of Technology (EIT) should look, having previously objected to elements of the Commission's proposals for the institute. Although LERU has in the past opposed the EIT propos...

The League of European Research Universities (LERU) has outlined its views on how a European Institute of Technology (EIT) should look, having previously objected to elements of the Commission's proposals for the institute. Although LERU has in the past opposed the EIT proposal, it believes that the project will go ahead, and has therefore decided to offer its 'expertise and advice about the objectives, structure and processes of an EIT that are most likely to deliver utility'. There are two issues that should set the context for any proposal on an EIT, according to LERU: 'Policies of Member States have neither funded universities and research at high enough levels, nor exerted strong enough selectivity, to produce institutions well enough funded to compete with their US counterparts, and, potentially, with emerging systems in Asia. And: 'Innovation systems in Europe are relatively weak, such that industry in general has a low absorptive and exploitative capacity for research and the people who embody it.' The EIT should, therefore, have the complementary objectives of enhancing excellence in Europe's best research groups in selected areas, and stimulating innovation processes in those same areas. LERU has very specific proposals on how the EIT should be structured. It should comprise up to ten areas of research, with a network of between three and five research groups (the best in Europe) within each field. A partnership relationship should exist between the parent bodies - the universities from which the research groups come, to ease interaction on research, postgraduate teaching and innovation between the EIT and the universities. LERU states that most groups will be in research-intensive universities, but that some may be in research institutes with leading-edge specialist skills relevant to the network. A connection to industry is vital, and could be achieved through 'Knowledge Integration Communities', according to LERU. The League opposes the secondment of researchers from universities to the EIT, as proposed by the Commission in 2005. The plan was that teams or whole departments from universities, research institutes or industry would be seconded to the EIT for periods of between 10 and 15 years, becoming legally but not physically separate from their parent organisations. The EIT would also offer its own degrees. In response, LERU says: 'The only rational approach to the creation of an EIT is to add value to existing world-class groups, not by poaching from their universities which provide part of the intellectual hinterland that strengthens and inspires their efforts.' The LERU paper notes how the diverse intellectual capacities of universities permit groups to exploit unexpected transdisciplinary opportunities. The environment enables a university to reconfigure its efforts in line with the changing research agenda. 'In the fast moving world of modern research, this 'critical diversity' is as important as 'critical mass',' says LERU. The Commission's proposals, on the other hand, would see the EIT cut off from the university's capacity to evolve and from the intellectual 'gene glow' across the university-EIT interface, according to LERU. 'The world is really moving towards the concept of boundary-less research, where synergistic relationships between academics, industry, government and not-for-profit organisations create the most productive innovation and thinking,' said David Livesey, Secretary General of LERU. 'To go back to a monolithic monopoly would be a big mistake now. Instead, we need to support and challenge universities to deploy their intellectual resources in new ways that provide the right environment and context to connect academia and industry.' It is highly unlikely that students would be attracted to EIT degrees, LERU added. The paper cites the example of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), which has the power to award its own degrees. Of the many hundreds of students that have studied there, all have chosen to receive their degrees from associated universities. LERU sees a role for the EIT in developing innovation processes for market, driving fundamental research in its chosen areas, developing postgraduate programmes in association with the host universities, and making a commitment to young researcher programmes. If these objectives are to be met, the EIT would need a budget of at least 1 billion euro per year, according to LERU, and the networks would need the capacity to win substantial additional resources competitively from national, EU and industrial sources.

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