EIT Coming ... Slowly

Last week, the European Commission announced that it would delay until autumn finalizing its plans for a European Institute of Technology (EIT). The statement of 8 June 2006 said that "much progress has been made" in planning for the new institute, but that more consultation was needed among the stakeholders so that a formal proposal could be completed "towards the end of the year."

The Commission envisions the EIT as a technology-oriented academy that would be somewhat analogous to U.S. universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its stated goal is to "be an education, research, and innovation operator." However, many issues surrounding EIT remain to be resolved, such as how to fund the €2 billion proposition, where it will be located, and whether or not it will even require a physical facility.

Its proponents say EIT will be "unlike any existing or planned EU initiative or national university." When we wrote about the proposal in this space back in February, though, we noted: "The plan is not without its critics, who claim [it] will drain funding from other educational programs."

As if in response to this controversy, Commission President José-Manuel Barroso said last week: "The EIT will be more than simply an operator in education, research, and innovation; it will be a reference model for excellence at the European level. I would like to see the institute become a European symbol for our renewed effort towards creating a competitive knowledge society, delivering more and better jobs and prosperity."

The Commission stated that an EIT Governing Board will be "at the heart of the concept." The board will "identify strategic scientific challenges in interdisciplinary areas (perhaps, for example, green energy or nanotechnologies)." It will also establish Knowledge Communities—integrated partnerships put together by universities, research organizations, and industry—to carry out the tasks related to their particular fields.

As for who would be employed in the new institute, the Commission called for "maximum flexibility," in which a "range of options should be available" to attract candidates via means such as direct employment, dual affiliation, and sabbaticals. According to the announcement, the Commission intends to see the institute "pool and integrate existing top-class teams from universities and research institutes" from Europe and the rest of the world.

The commissioner overseeing educational matters, Ján Figel, said that EIT would also emphasize a basis of partnering with industry to accomplish its mission. "Businesses will be core partners at the institute's strategic and operational levels," Figel noted. "Companies will be directly involved in research and education activities, thereby helping to nurture an entrepreneurial mindset among graduates and researchers. This is vital if Europe is to achieve its goal of being a dynamic knowledge-based economy."

The EIT initiative began with a study that showed that the European Union, as a technological world player, was falling behind competitors such as the United States, and had oncoming competition from newer powerhouses, such as India and China. According to one published report, this has led some to talk of a new "brain drain" in Europe.

The Commission stated that the unresolved issues in the EIT proposal will continue to be debated over the coming months by all involved parties, leading to a "draft legal instrument" establishing the institute, which would be put to a vote in autumn.

The wheels of progress sometimes move quite slowly. With enormous organizations such as the European Commission, you sometimes begin to wonder how they ever manage to move at all. We'll update you later this year.

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