EUROPE: Think about market, say top universities

Europe's top research universities have urged the European Union to take finance, competition and entrepreneurship fully into account when charting a future for the proposed EU 'Innovation Union'. Universities have an important role in innovation: "They do not operate in isolation but are an intrinsic part of a larger innovation ecosystem," said the League of European Research Universities, LERU.

LERU, which comprises the 22 top research-intensive universities in the EU member countries, said that while Europe was highly competitive when it came to developing new knowledge, "it is less successful at turning this knowledge into the innovative products and services that drive world class economies".

A checklist of key factors released by LERU to coincide with the launch of the innovation union includes: action to stimulate EU-wide competition for funding frontier research; to attract the best talents to a research career by providing well-designed programmes; to provide well-funded and well-supported research jobs; to open national research systems to foreign researchers; to develop major research infrastructures that countries are unable to afford individually; and to pool national research efforts.

LERU suggests "research efforts should be aimed equally well at directed top-down society-driven, and at non-directed bottom-up science-driven research", and says it is vital that a significant part of investment in R&D goes to the latter.

On entrepreneurship, the league calls for the provision of fiscal and other incentives. It says fair competition should be stimulated, deregulation encouraged and fair returns rewarded to companies investing in innovation.

"Finally, as for financial incentives, Europe should stimulate the growth of a well-functioning venture capital and private equity market," says LERU. A focus on 'growth' or 'accelerator' money is advised "as companies need a sufficient resource base if they want to expand rapidly in international markets".

LERU says it supports the EU's ambition to bring about a sea change in Europe's innovation ecosystem and is ready to help make this happen.