EUROPE: Funding criteria 'hamper innovation'

Funding regimes that prevent universities from turning knowledge into innovative products and services need correction, the League of European Research Universities (LERU) says in its response to the European Union's call for Europe to become a more innovation-friendly continent.

LERU adds that creation of the 'Innovation Union' requires correction of funding arrangements.

In its just-released report Universities, Research and the 'Innovation Union', LERU describes Europe as being highly competitive when it comes to developing new knowledge, but less successful at turning this knowledge into innovative products and services that drive world-class economies.

According to LERU, the problem has been universities' impoverished research efforts in recent decades, with a few notable exceptions. This, they say, is a result of "marginal-cost funding of research, the allocation of research funding on criteria other than excellence, and an obsession with bureaucratic even-handedness".

LERU, an association of 22 of Europe's premier research-intensive universities, says that research universities are the bedrock of internationally competitive, cutting edge research, and they will play an important role in the Innovation Union.

LERU's member universities include many of Europe's major research players. They are the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London and University College London (England), Helsinki (Finland), Pierre-and-Marie-Curie (Paris-6), Paris-Sud 11 and Strasbourg (France), Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (Germany), Milan (Italy), Amsterdam, Leiden, Utrecht (the Netherlands), Edinburgh (Scotland), Barcelona (Spain), Lund and the Karolinska Institute (Sweden), and Geneva and Zurich (Switzerland).

The league believes the EU could help universities to flourish by developing or promoting processes and infrastructures that stimulate and enable creativity.

The focus should be on five objectives: stimulating excellence by investing heavily; attracting and nurturing the best research talent; creating a barrier-free space for European researchers to move around in; ensuring the development of state-of-the-art research infrastructure; and orchestrating collaboration in globally significant research programmes.

Universities, particularly research-intensive ones, have a major enabling role to play in the innovation chain, LERU says. Priorities for the university component in a European innovation union should be enhancing the supply of relevant university capacity, stimulating business demand and improving university-business interactions.

The EU should concentrate its efforts on creating a better innovation-friendly environment, which should consist of a four-pronged attack aimed at stimulating competitively driven research, dynamic entrepreneurship, competitive, fair market environments and adequate financial resources.

Professor Johanna Björkroth, Vice-rector (research and innovation) at the University of Helsinki, said universities had an important role to pay in innovation activities as a part of the knowledge-based society.

"Not only do universities educate and train the future innovators but they also interact with society in various ways. Universities are key players in high-quality research. Collaboration between industry and academia provides interesting possibilities for both parties."

* Download the LERU Report here
* Find more information on the EU's 'Innovation Union' here

* Ian Dobson is an Australian scholar living in Finland. He is editor of the Australian Universities' Review and the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management.