The EU needs a funding stream to support university networks

Collaborations are crucial to make Europe’s research, education and innovation globally competitive, say the Presidents of the EuroTech Universities Alliance in an opinion piece published this week. Too often, technologies that have been developed in Europe are commercialised elsewhere. Open innovation—an ecosystem of ideas, people and capabilities that spans the public and private sectors—is a model that could reverse this trend. As lynchpins connecting education, research and innovation, universities are drivers of open innovation, engaging industry and other parts of society.

Open innovation will be best served if universities build alliances with each other. By combining their complementary research strengths and bringing players together, networks of European universities can achieve the scale and synergies needed to make their research capacity and skills globally competitive. However, launching such an effort and ensuring its long-term sustainability will require dedicated support instruments at the EU level that are currently lacking.

The current discussion about support for university networks should learn from past lessons, and go beyond simply boosting the budget of existing tools for university collaboration provided through the Erasmus+ mobility programme. The EuroTech Universities advocate alternative approaches to joint degrees and fully integrated new European university institutions and call for a dedicated support instrument for inter-university collaboration. Such an instrument should be geared towards a more holistic funding programme combining education, research and innovation and should have a sufficiently long time frame, aimed at achieving excellence. In particular, the instrument should provide the freedom to define where funding can have the most impact. Networks that demonstrate high innovation potential should also be able to apply for follow-up funding.