European Institute of Technology on track

Leading academics and European officials reinforced the central role and strategy of the European Institute of Technology at the Gothenburg Knowledge Triangle conference convened to mark the Swedish EU presidency.

Professor Martin Schuurmans, chairman of the EIT board, was a key note speaker and EU Commissioners Ján Figel' and Janez Potočnik both referred to the EIT as the central player coordinating European practices on the Knowledge Triangle.

Schuurmans said that "no-one is going to wait for us sitting talking while China is moving like a bulldozer".

He added: "The present transfer of innovative industries [from Europe] to China, Malaysia and Indonesia is creating an enormously long supply chain, where Europe is hit by problems of energy, demography and environmental issues. In transport, we have great problems with congested harbours."

Increased innovation in Europe is now a question of new leadership, Schuurmans said, suggesting that the EIT would address all three sides of the Knowledge Triangle, in order to scale up Europe's innovation performance. The mandate and vision of the EIT is to serve as a catalyst between the European Union and national actions, for a step-change in Europe's technical capacity.

There are hundred of issues that need to be tackled, and the EIT is in particular looking for actions with world-class impact, Schuurmans said. The process of identifying activities to be run by the EIT after the first call for proposals for Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) is now in progress. KICs are partnerships between the private sector, the research communities and excellent teams from universities with the major aim of new business creation.

The EIT will promote courses and doctoral programmes that include entrepreneurial elements, will run for a minimum of seven years and attract partners and top-class talent from around the world.

The first call identified the three topics of sustainable energy, climate change and the "future information and communication society" as the areas to be covered by KICs, and six or seven KICs will now be selected. A KIC could involve up to 500 researchers and support staff, 600 Masters students and 400 PhD candidates with an annual budget of up to EUR200 million (US$209 million). There is a cap for the proportion of support that will be given from the EIT budget to 25% of the total running costs. The first KICs will be selected in January 2010.

Four out of the EIT's 18 board members gave presentations, including Professor Anders Flodström, the conference chair, Professor Julia King, vice-chancellor of Aston University in the UK, and Professor Linnar Viik, former director of Skype Access at Skype Technologies Ltd in Estonia.

Schuurmans and King stressed that the need for change in innovation practices in Europe are strongly felt by policymakers. The EIT has a central role in making such chances happen as a matter of urgency, King said.

A central aim of the EIT is to create a quality stamp on advanced education in Europe. EU Commissioner Potočnik said that the Swedish Presidency is calling for larger graduate schools in Europe in the Lund declaration, to utilise laboratories and to create a critical mass.
One direction could be increased "branding" issuing an EIT diploma to successful candidates through joint degrees with the participating universities.

* Jan Petter Myklebust is deputy director of research at the University of Bergen.