SWEDEN: Fresh look at innovation

The Swedish Presidency of the European Union has organised a major conference starting this week and titled The Knowledge Triangle: Shaping the future of Europe. Ministers from Sweden, Finland and the UK, together with high-ranking EU Commission officers including two commissioners and 350 university presidents, researchers, students and policy-makers and some high level industry leaders will meet in the university town of Gothenburg.

The conference is a follow-up of the "Lund declaration" from the EU Presidency conference in July - New Worlds: New Solutions - which called for "grand challenges" in European research during the coming decade.

The Lund declaration has been a success with regard to agenda-setting for research concentration. But most observers are asking how the Swedes are going to implement their grand visions.

The "Knowledge Triangle" between research, higher education and innovation, which is at the heart of the European Research Area, is strongly endorsed by the Swedish Presidency as the framework for further policy making. The Gothenburg conference is intended to give some further clues on implementation.

At the core of the Swedish strategy is a call for a major resource increase in the EU research Framework Programme from 2014, with alignment of the commission's research budget with the member state budgets and the European structural funds.

A tripling of the budget has been proposed. Such an ambitious goal is needed to get away from the "incremental increases" in the framework budget and open opportunities for "the grand challenges".

What is needed in Europe, according to Swedish thinking, is a kind of an "Apollo spirit" for research and higher education in the next decade: "When the Americans managed to send a man to the moon, why shall not Europe manage to clean up the planet" is an undercurrent strand in this thinking.

"When trillions of Euros have been channelled into the ongoing financial crisis, would it not be possible and more useful to allocate such funding for research and innovation," is the logical further step in this argumentation.

In implementing the Lund declaration, the Swedish presidency published 30 policy measures. One focus is on how to modernise European universities:

The conference organisers asked in their invitation: "What does it take to make us commit time and energy and, hopefully, the resources and leadership to create a truly knowledge-based society? A society where the vision of a knowledge triangle is the guiding principle for the development of universities, and where the concept of the knowledge triangle includes both industry and society as a whole? "What tools and what actions do we need?"

Universities are now at the heart of the Knowledge Triangle. One approach advocated by the organisers is to concentrate on how innovation is taught at university, rather than identify gaps and bottlenecks between university research and the innovation processes in industry.

Professor Gudmund Hernes, President of the International Social Science Council, participated in the Lund conference in July. Asked if he was optimistic with regard to the Lund declaration and the "grand challenges" strongly advocated in the declaration, Hernes said:

"The confluence of crises - in climate, energy and economy - needs to be addressed immediately, intelligently and forcefully by integrated research that addresses the complexities we face.

"An increasing part of the knowledge we search for and need to marshal for responding effectively to the changes in nature that humans have brought about and which will boomerang with enormous social impacts around the globe.

"Integrated research is in its very design, execution, application and presentation must bring together the natural and social sciences in joint projects. As for the Swedish presidency, I think it should pose the issue of European decline as an enormous opportunity. If the Swedes manage the complex `political legwork' required, momentum might not be lost."

* Jan Petter Myklebust is deputy director of research at the University of Bergen. He will report on the conference for University World News