Universities seek government help to implement innovation strategies

11 Nov 2021 | News

A report by the European University Association is the final piece of input for a new innovation agenda the European Commission is planning to launch in January

European universities have published their input for the European Commission’s upcoming innovation strategy, saying they need more sustainable funding sources, better ways to cooperate with other innovators in the public and private sector, and ways to incentivise staff to think beyond research and get involved in innovation.

“The rapidly increasing focus on innovation is outpacing the availability of support mechanisms and creating the need to adjust institutional approaches,” said Stephane Berghmans, director of research and innovation at the European University Association (EUA).

The report, published on Wednesday, is based on a survey of 166 universities in 28 countries across the continent and includes key recommendations for universities, policy makers and funding agencies on how to enhance the contribution of universities to innovation ecosystems.

Nearly three quarters of the responding universities have an innovation strategy, but many are having difficulties finding partners. Those with better innovation strategies tend to work more closely with companies and civil society organisations.

“There needs to be further support for universities to interact with companies and other actors in the innovation ecosystems,” Berghmans told Science|Business.

Social innovation

According to the report, policymakers could help universities with lower innovation capacity to work more closely with companies and other public and private innovation stakeholders. Governments could help through “the reduction in regulatory burden, through supporting skills development, through networking opportunities, and funding incentives,” said EUA president Michael Murphy at the launch on Wednesday.

The survey indicates that universities are working on innovation projects needed in the EU’s green transition at many levels and across disciplines, but technological innovation is still far ahead of social innovation. “Here policymakers could support collaboration between universities, civil society, and local institutions to understand the specific societal needs to which innovation should respond. And this should generate a more holistic approach to the sustainable green transition,” said Murphy.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Mariya Gabriel, EU commissioner for research told delegates the EU needs highly innovative universities. “This reinforced role of universities as engines for innovation will be reflected in the future innovation policy and also in the upcoming European strategy for universities,” said Gabriel.

The report does not look into geographical differences in university innovation strategies, but the EUA is planning to a complete survey report on this in early 2022.

The Commission is planning to launch a new innovation agenda and an action plan to turn EU’s scientific excellence into economic gain and reduce its dependence on technologies developed and produced abroad.

So far Gabriel has received input from grassroots organisations on what the EU could do to boost investments in deep tech companies, increase the number of start-ups that grow to market valuations of €1 billion and over, and to increase the number of women innovators.

The plan was scheduled to be launched in December but the Commission is now aiming for the beginning of next year. It is not clear yet whether the innovation strategy would have to go through a legislative process in Parliament and the Council.

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