House of Commons
|Session 2006 - 07|
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General Committee Debates
European Standing Committee Debates
European Institute of Technology
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Emily Commander, Committee Clerk
attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):
European Standing Committee
Tuesday 30 January 2007
[John Cummings in the Chair]
European Institute of Technology
[Relevant Documents: European Union Document No. 14871/06 and Addenda 1-2.]
The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): Thank you, Mr. Cummings. I am grateful to the Committee for this opportunity to debate the proposed regulation establishing the European Institute of Technology.
We have the chance today to discuss the role of the European Union in strengthening Europes capacity to innovate and to promote more effective knowledge transfer. The EIT has been proposed as a new way of achieving those objectives and contributing to the Lisbon goals of increased competitiveness and growth. It would bring together the three branches of what the European Commission terms the knowledge triangleeducation, business and researchon a scale and with a level of ambition that would not otherwise exist, and it would develop a series of autonomous knowledge and innovation communities to seek out and promote areas of excellence across the EU. Those communities would be selected and funded on a competitive basis to bolster Europes capacity to innovate in a number of targeted areas of key economic or societal interest.
Ultimately, the EIT aims to create a climate in which the right people and knowledge can be brought together to innovate and generate new ideas, making the most of EU expertise. The European Commission continues to highlight the fact that we in Europe, like our main competitors, need to do more to transform ideas and knowledge into commercial and economic activity, and, as a result, into growth and jobs.
The Commission believes, as do I, that more can and should be done to raise our level of competitiveness through innovation. A new instrument such as the EIT has the potential to reinvigorate existing efforts and to be a valuable catalyst for further achievement. However, the Government believe that a number of issues require further attention before the EIT can be as effective an instrument as the Commission envisages. First, the proposed funding model for the EIT appears to be unsustainable in its current form. Further work is required to ensure the final proposal is fully costed, manageable and affordable. The Government continue to work with colleagues in the European Commission and other member states to ensure that any agreed proposal will be sustainable financially.
Secondly, on the key issue of funding, the Government are not yet convinced that there are enough incentives for the business and higher education communities to get involved in the EIT project as it stands. The central plank of the proposal requires partner organisations from those sectors to commit themselves to work together
Thirdly, the EIT must genuinely add value to our efforts to strengthen the EUs capacity to innovate and be competitive. It should not unhelpfully duplicate or cut across the work already being performed by existing instruments, especially the framework programme. In addition, the EIT must be as light touch, business friendly and un-bureaucratic as possible. Proposals for collaborative working need to be developed from the bottom up, not the other way round. They must also be responsive to partner organisations and the needs of the KICs. The central administrative structure of the EIT should be small, enabling it to be effective, transparent and responsive to the needs of the KICs that are delivering on the ground.
The extent to which the EIT develops as an autonomous component for education is of great interest, both to me as Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning and to our higher education sector. The original concept for the EIT was based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was envisaged as an institution in its own right, with its own legal personality and autonomy and the capacity to offer graduate and doctoral studies leading to independent EIT degrees.
As a result of our continued engagement with a range of stakeholders and other member states, some important progress has been made. The Commission now proposes that degrees and diplomas at masters and postgraduate level will be awarded by individual HE institutions in each KIC. Institutions will be encouraged to offer entrepreneurship training as part of their provision and to award joint degrees with other HE institutions in their KIC. The Commission has also proposed that degrees and diplomas awarded by institutions in each KIC should carry an EIT label to distinguish the qualifications awarded as part of the work of a knowledge and innovation community. Clearly, we welcome that progress, but the Government are keen to ensure that that is reflected in the final text of the proposal and that the primacy of member states higher education systems is maintained.
The UK Government have been constructive in their negotiation with the Commission and with other member states. We will continue to take that approach and to work with stakeholders and colleagues in the European Parliament while raising the issues of which I have spoken. The Government recognise, as do other member states, that the EIT has the potential to deliver benefits in terms of the EUs capacity to innovate, to exploit our knowledge base and to improve our competitiveness and growth. If the final proposal is framed in the right way, the EIT could act as a catalyst for key actors in the field of innovation, which would reinvigorate existing efforts across the Europe Union. It would allow for more integrated interaction within and between the planned knowledge and innovation communities, which could be a significant gain. However, I reiterate that a number of key issues need to be addressed before the Government can support the proposal.
In conclusion, the EIT is just one of the ways in which the European Union could improve its competitiveness. Across the board, we need to do more and to make sure that in whatever we dowhether through the EIT or other initiativesthe conditions and tools are in place for us to succeed.
The Chairman: We have until half-past 5 for questions to the Minister. May I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief and asked one at a time? There is likely to be ample opportunity for hon. Members to ask several questions if we adhere to those proposals.
Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): I have several questions, but may I ask whether I should proceed by asking one question and then sitting down?
Derek Wyatt: Has there been any work on the outcomes of such massive investment and what does the proposal hope to achieve in terms of patents, venture capital and new business?
Bill Rammell: The merit of one question at a time is that I get more time to think about the answers. I thank my hon. Friend for that question, which cuts to the heart of the issue. When considering the evidence on knowledge transfer, a comparison of our performance in the European Union with that of the United States or Japan shows that there is a significant deficit, which is partly because of the deficit in tertiary education and partly because of the number of patent applications. On scientific publications, we are ahead of the United States, but when it comes to applying for patents, we are 30 per cent. behind, which is a real issue. The Commission must demonstrate through this process that there will be real, tangible and objective outcomes. There must be a proper audit process and an adherence to quality. In particular, there has to be greater evidence than has come forward thus far that there is real commitment and interest on the part of business to engage in this process.
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): I wonder whether the Minister is clear on what a knowledge and innovation community consists of.
Bill Rammell: It will involve personnel from the business, research and educational sectors coming together in a knowledge community to undertake educational provision and through the process of applied research to try effectively to apply some of the educational content to business outcomes. If that can be made to work, it is well worth pursuing. There is still a great deal of detail that we need to get right as the Commission takes this process through.
Stephen Williams (Bristol, West) (LD): If I heard the Minister correctly, he was confirming that the proposed EIT will not award degrees in its own right, which was the original idea. Has any thought been given to the proposal in the document that universities within knowledge community partnerships should be able to award joint degrees between two different universities? How will that work?
Bill Rammell: That is part of the proposition that is well worth pursuing not only in this context, but as part of our broader higher education and international agenda. We see real merit in getting a greater delivery of joint programmes across the world, which would certainly benefit overseas students who want to participate with our institutions. I have a strong view that we have a real national interest in getting more of our young people and mature students to engage in an international aspect of their education, and the delivery of joint programmes with overseas institutions can only help in that regard.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): The Minister has said that the idea came out of the US institution, MIT. However, does he agree that MIT has been around for a long time and has established its centre of excellence? On what basis does the Commission believe that that excellence can be reproduced without a location, without quality control and, probably, while trying to find something for each of the 27 member countries?
Bill Rammell: I do not hanker for a centralised institution. Indeed, our lobbying from the beginning of this process was not to think in terms of replicating MIT. We have achieved significant progress in our dialogue with the Commission. It is now much more about knowledge communities, involving a number of institutions, businesses and research institutes and bringing them together. If through that process we can get a critical mass of expertise, resource and personnel to face up to some of the significant knowledge transfer challenges at the European level, which because of capacity and resource constraints in every country might not be achievable at the level of the nation state, it is well worth pursuing. However, a great deal of water must flow under the bridge to get this proposition to one that we would be totally comfortable in supporting.
Derek Wyatt: The Minister knows that I am deeply impressed by the institutes of technology and information technology in Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbaiin fact, I am trying to bring one of them here. Before we embark on a brand new MIT equivalent for Europe, what connections do we currently have in Europe between our computer science departments and our biotech departments? What is going on in a European perspective that requires yet another institute over the top?
Bill Rammell: I know that my hon. Friend takes a real interest in these issues. He knows that we have engaged on them, and his constructive engagement is very welcome. A number of programmes in the field of technology platforms, business innovation and research are already funded through the European Union. I think particularly of the seventh framework development programme, which currently supports research development across European institutions. That programme is significant, and all the evidence suggests that it will produce results. One of my concerns is that this proposition, particularly in funding terms, should not detract from the work that is already being undertaken. That is one of the areas where we are looking for greater detail from the Commission.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): To what extent does the Minister consider that great innovations will come from this centralised plan to create a European institute? I am thinking of big ideas such as Google, which has changed the way in which we research, and YouTube, which has been sold for billions of dollars. Would such ideas flow from a great big bureaucracy? And might we not be better off concentrating on national universities with their qualifications and letting people go out and innovate? Is the problem therefore really one of getting capital and finding the market from there?
Bill Rammell: There is a balance to be struck here. Do I believe that the only solution to knowledge innovation and transfer is centralised bureaucratic structures from on high? No, I do not. Indeed, one of the initiatives for which I find strong support as I go around our universities is the Higher Education Innovation Fund. We spend about £120 a million a year on it.
Bill Rammell: I was going to say that that fund is supported by Opposition Front Benchers, but the hon. Gentleman got there first. It might be characterised as central intervention, but it has been warmly welcomed by institutions. It is about getting the balance right. One of the things that the Commission needs to do better and in more detail as the process is taken forward is to demonstrate that the process will be bottom up and that it will not be rigidly imposed from on high. The structures will be as lean and as unbureaucratic as possible. Without that, there simply will not be the engagement from business to make this proposition fly.
Mr. Johnson: I wonder whether the Minister is satisfied that the quality assurance for the EIT degrees will be adequate and conform with what we expect in this country.
Bill Rammell: That is an important question. It is crucial for the outcomes of the EIT to be subject to independent quality assurance, and I expect periodic independent evaluation of the activities of both the EIT as a whole and the knowledge and innovation communities. There is a debate to be had about the best way to develop the process. In the field of science research and technology, there is what is called the comitology approachwhen I first heard about it, I wondered what it waswhich is a sensible mechanism using a special advisory committee involving the key experts and civil servants from national Governments in ensuring that the process is monitored and that we get the detail right. There is a strong argument that that would be a proper way forward for this proposal.
Derek Wyatt: If we were starting from scratch, would we not want an institute with science parks, venture capital and research institutions together? I am nervous that the institute might be yet another European model that will fail because it does not take a 21st-century view of what is needed to have innovation. The hon.
Bill Rammell: If we were starting centralised planning with a clean sheet of paper, there would be merit in what my hon. Friend has said. However, one of the objectives that the proposition must meet is to ensure that it goes forward without disrupting and subtracting from the good work that is being done at existing institutions, which is why I am not in favour of such a centralised approach. Ensuring that we link venture capital with the ideas and research that are being developed is a key matter. If we get the detail right and the KICs work effectively, that will happen. As I have said, a great deal more detail needs to be fleshed out.
Mr. Taylor: I understand that the impact assessment carried out by the Commission compares the EIT concept with the status quo but not with other programmes that the EU is already running. Most of those programmes are collaborative, some are genuinely bottom-up and their impact is considerable. According to my memory, the seventh framework programme is worth about €54 billion. What does the Minister believe is the real added value of the proposal?
Bill Rammell: I reiterate that it is crucial that there is no top-slicing from the framework 7 programme. The Commission currently proposes a process of competitive bidding. It would be one thing for the knowledge and innovation communities to be successful in developing proposals that got framework 7 funding, but for funding to be top-sliced in the first instance to support the proposal would be the wrong way forward.
On adding value, what is unique about the proposal, if it can be got right, is that a lot of other initiatives deal with one or two aspects of what is described as the knowledge triangle. This one deals with all three. I am not here as the enthusiastic advocate saying that the institute as currently formulated is the best thing since sliced bread, but if we can get the details right it can help us to deal with the significant knowledge transfer deficit between the EU and some of our major competitors elsewhere.
Stephen Williams: The only budgetary information given in the document appears on page 134, where it says that £1.6 billion will be spent over six years, which would amount to about £266 million a year. What difference is that amount of money going to make when compared with the hundreds of millions of pounds spent every year on scientific research in this country and other member states?
Bill Rammell: To some extent I can come to the defence of the Commission, which is between a rock and a hard placeI hope that I am not mixing my metaphors too much. If a scheme is overly grandiose, people say, Its a waste of money, but if the
However, some considerable concerns about funding remain to be addressed. We lack a justification for the substantial budget size, a breakdown of what the funds are likely to be spent on and clarity on where the funding will come from. We do not know the extent to which member states will be expected to make additional contributions, how market funding from businesses will be attracted and the impact on other Community budget priorities. I would be particularly concerned if it cut across the fundamental review of the general EU budget targeted for 2008.
I come at the matter from a slightly different direction than the hon. Gentleman. Further clarification and detail is required and, arguably, there is a case for scaling down the proposition.
Mr. Johnson: Never mind the cost, which I agree is excessive, to what extent does the Minister think that the mechanism for the EIT to give money to KICs is superior to the future European research council as a means by which to get taxpayers cash to top-class research? Would it not be better to use the peer review system, rather than to rely on the EIT and 60 bureaucrats to pick winners?
Bill Rammell: Let us reconsider the statistics. Europe produces 7 per cent. more scientific publications than the United States but applies for 30 per cent. fewer patents. I think that the Commission is on to a winnerfor want of a better phrasein identifying what is a real problem. It could be argued that some of the challenges facing us are of such a size, scale and risk that individual member states might not be able to tackle them on their own. That is why the proposal is worth pursuing. However, I certainly do not have enough clarification to enable me to recommend confidently that hon. Members support the proposition today.
Derek Wyatt: Will the Minister outline how the UK would get its KICs? Would universities have to apply? I am uncertain about the British pattern.
We need clarity on funding and the number of KICs that will be evolved over the current financial planning period. There might be a case for scaling that down. Then it will probably be the responsibility of the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to give a broad steer and prioritise research areas. After that, however, there must be a bottom-up approach in which businesses, research institutes and higher education institutions come together and put forward a proposition, which would then be looked at by the EIT. To put that in a national context, our universities, businesses and research institutes need to come together and, if this really is to add value, they must do so across borders with counterparts elsewhere. I strongly believe, in a world of globalised higher education, there is merit and benefit in institutions working together across national boundaries.
Mr. Taylor: The Minister made an important point about the number of research projects that end in publication. The United Kingdom does very well in punching above our weight. The problem is that the moment the researchers publish their information, it is available to international teams and those in the United States are very good at picking the ideas up. How would that emphasis change? I still cannot grasp what the EIT is trying to do that sensible businesses are not already trying to do or how it will change the culture of those more iconoclastic research institutes that do not want to know about the real world and exploit their discoveries.
Bill Rammell: There are a lot of ifs in what I am saying, but if the detail can be got right and if the process can be lean and unbureaucratic, if business is attracted to co-operate with research institutes and higher education institutions, and if there is a product of success in the early phases, such propositions might begin to attract more finance than has previously been the case. However, as I have said on a number of occasions, a great deal more work remains to be done to ensure that we get to that position.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The Minister mentioned several times the lack of clarity on funding. That was one of the reservations that the European Scrutiny Committee raised in its report. It was also surprised that the Commission concluded that the project should go ahead, given the lack of information about the legal basis for the necessary legislation. Will the Minister comment on the likelihood of that information becoming available and on what possible complications might arise?
Bill Rammell: The UK Government are not concerned about the legal basis. I think that the measure is driven forward under article 157, although I stand to be corrected, and we believe that to be an appropriate vehicle. In this area, despite the fact that the national competence, particularly in terms of education, is within the national realm, the EU has a competence to co-ordinate actions on a pan-European level for greater achievements than could be achieved on the part of the individual member state. We do not have concerns about the legal basis on which it is being driven forward.
Derek Wyatt: My instincts are that the proposal is a done deal and that we will therefore have to put up with it. Will the Minister give us an idea of what initiatives and timetables he will have to encourage the British university sector and businesses in IT, computer science, intellectual property, patenting and so on to come together so that we lead the debate and are seen to be the leaders? In some ways, I suspect that we should be worrying about India and China, not the MITs, but I shall let that rest. I want us to dominate the thinking.
Bill Rammell: I perhaps should not use the word dominated in the context of European Councils, but we have influenced the debate to a significant extent. We have worked closely with business in this country, Universities UK and individual institutions to press for
I do not believe that as of today it is a done deal. There is certainly a strong degree of support for the proposition from the Commission. I would be misleading my hon. Friend if I did not make that clear. We need greater clarity, greater detail and some further movement before we are in a position to support the proposal. Once that happens, the co-operation between business, research institutes and universities in this country which has been undertaken to influence the process will put us in a strong position in the final structure to ensure that we are at the leading edge and can benefit from the opportunities.
Stephen Williams: The document is ambitious in talking about building a global brand for the EIT and the importance of that brand being on every degree certificate, even though it will be issued by another institution, as the Minister confirmed. Everyone knows the brand value of Cambridge, Yale or other world-famous universities that have had hundreds of years in which to develop their world-renowned brands. How long will it take before the EIT is a brand that is accepted worldwide?
Bill Rammell: It would be foolhardy to come out with time-specific predictions off the top of my head on that score. The EIT badge may be worth pursuing as it develops, but it cannot be imposed. One thing for which we have fought stronglyto link this into the overall debate about developing higher education across the European Unionis that we have got something right in this country that has not always been got right to the same degree in other European countries. That is the notion of autonomous institutions, which develop in accordance with their strengths and not in areas where they are weak. It would be wrong to impose that branding rigidly from the top. Similarly, that would act as a principle for central direction and intervention in the role of higher education institutions, which we are arguing is not the right way forward more broadly across the European Union.
Grant Shapps: As the Minister has said, there are lots of ifs in thisifs, ifs and ifsbut, as the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey said, it has a horrible sound of inevitability about it. That being the case, when does the Minister expect to come back to us with more on this?
Bill Rammell: This cuts to the heart of the debate about our position within the European Union. I know that there are some views on the Opposition Benches about how we should handle such things, but if we think back to the days when we banged the table and said, You will do this within Europeor particularly if we think of the beef banthen the results were not
I would hope to come back with a detailed proposition within a relatively short time. A detailed discussion took place under the German presidency yesterday, seeking to get further clarification and movement on these issues. My honest sense is that it will take a fair bit longer. I hope to come back as quickly as possible with a proposition that we can support, but we are not there today.
Mr. Johnson: Who are the Ministers allies in the Council in putting forward the slightly sceptical position that he has put today? Without wishing to tip his hand completely, what is the bottom line for the Government? What changes are the British Government insisting on before they can sign up?
Bill Rammell: I have given a strong degree of indication of bottom lines. I will not spell that out in crystal clarity because representatives from the European Commission and of other Governments read the recordings of our debate, and it is important that we move forward on these issues.
On the arguments that we have been advancing, in the working group meeting that took place yesterday a large number of member states had positions similar to ours. They were certainly seeking much greater bottom-line clarity on the financial issues. A number spoke supportively and in a similar vein to us: the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, Cyprus, Latvia, Portugal and, to a lesser extent, Slovakia, Italy and Austria. There is a strong momentum. We would not have got where we are today if there was no support for our views and concerns. I believe that that will continue.
Derek Wyatt: Has the Open university been a party to the talks here? Clearly, something that goes across the whole of Europe should be online and could be remote. We do not necessarily need institutions like the MITs, but something lighter and more flexible. Has that been part of any discussions that the Minister has been in?
Bill Rammell: I have not been directly involved in such discussions, but there have been discussions more broadly at official level with a host of institutions, including the representative bodies, in particular Universities UK, with which we have worked closely. The Open university has had access to those discussions, and if it has further views to put forward, I shall be more than happy to receive them.
Stephen Williams: At the bottom of page 13, the documents talks about the EIT building a critical mass of human and physical resources for itself. Will the Minister define a critical mass of human resources? How many students at PhD level or post-doctoral level is it envisaged will go through the degree programmes that the EIT offers? If the programmes are not MIT-equivalent, what does the critical mass of physical resources mean?
Bill Rammell: It is still a work in progress, but there was a helpful clarification at the working group yesterday, when the Commission talked about KICs being expected to have on average 400 scientific staff, 300 researchers and 100 teaching staff. KICs are also expected to take in 1,000 masters and PhD students over the lifetime of the EITs operation, with a span of seven to 15-years on average. That gives some indication of the proposition, but as with a number of such issues, we need further detail and clarity, and that is what we are pursuing.
Mr. Taylor: Does the Minister agree that some member nations may see the institute as a way of topping up their own activities rather than competing on a basis of excellence? There is a danger of the principle of juste retour. In that context, did he note that the annual policy strategy adopted on 18 May 2006 by the European Parliament said that
the setting up of a new European Institute of Technology may undermine or overlap on existing structures, and may not therefore be the most effective use of funds in this context.?
Is the Minister in further talks with the European Parliament about what appears to be a common stand between himself and the Parliament?
Bill Rammell: We have talked to colleagues in the European Parliament. The potential problems of overlap and funding substitution are real, particularly in respect of the seventh framework programme, which I know the hon. Gentleman supports and which has brought, and is bringing, real value. It is crucial to ensure that the funds are not diverted from the programme to the knowledge and innovation communities. That is why we have not just blithely gone along with the proposition; we have constantly sought further detail and clarification. The process is ongoing, and we are by no means at the end of it.
Mr. Johnson: I want to clarify what the Minister said about the EIT not being able to award degrees. Article 6(1) says:
The agreement between the EIT and the KICs shall provide that, in the disciplines and fields under which studies, research and innovation activities are carried out through KICs, degrees and diplomas awarded through KICs shall be EIT degrees and diplomas.
They will be EIT degrees and diplomas, but they will not be awarded by the EIT. That seems to be a distinction without a difference.
Bill Rammell: When we get on to the debate, I shall place the following point firmly on the record. My understanding of the discussions and negotiations that have taken place is that the proposition has shifted. Whereas at the beginning, the degree was intended to be EIT-awarded, the award will now come from the institution that is directly involved in the KIC, not from the EIT as a whole. That is consistent with the Commission arguing in favour of having an EIT badge or brand on the award given by each institution. That is my understanding, and I shall clarify it in detail later.
Stephen Williams: I want to follow up the Ministers answer to my earlier question about the critical mass. If I heard him correctly, he implied that hundreds of
Bill Rammell: In a sense I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, because there are still too many gaps in the funding prospectus. The Commission has said it will fund some of it from underspends in existing programmes, but that is not a sustainable basis on which to do so. There has been talk of taking money from structural funds, which is not an appropriate use of the money, and of the KICs competitively bidding for seventh framework programme funding, which is legitimate. However, if that is not successful, where does the money come from? What evidence is there that there is significant private sector support and willingness to fund it? A considerable number of funding questions still need to be answered, which is why I am not asking the Committee to endorse the proposal.
Mr. Johnson: This is my last question. I am still baffled by the theology of who actually awards the degree. If the KIC awards the degree, will degree-awarding powers be conferred on it by the Privy Council?
Bill Rammell: No. My understanding is that it will not and that this will be a partnership involving one or more higher education institutions. The providing body, whatever its accreditation arrangement, nationally or across borders, will award the degree, but it will do so as part of the overall KIC. If it was X universityI had better not name an institutionthe award would be from X university, with a badge overlaying it saying that it was delivered as part of the KIC. That is my understanding. If the hon. Gentleman needs further clarification, I shall be happy to give it to him.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 14871/06 and Addenda 1 and 2, draft Regulation establishing the European Institute of Technology; and supports the Governments view that while the Proposal will potentially provide a means of strengthening innovation and competitiveness, a number of issues still need to be addressed before the Government can support this Proposal.[Bill Rammell.]
Mr. Johnson: I begin by saying how grateful I am to the Minister for his frank and honest appraisal of the issues and the great clarity with which he expounded most of the proposal. Had it been possible for us to do so, I would have voted against the proposal as drafted in respect of the European Institute of Technology, but the Government are also opposed to it, so we have shot our fox. I do not feel that we can oppose the Government in opposing the measure. It is absolutely right that the Minister will try to fight with all his subtlety, discretion and tact to get a better deal for this country.
It is important that we do not overdo our language and that we are not hysterical. As the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey rightly said, the proposal has all the feeling of a done deal. It will probably
From what the Minister said, that was more or less the plan. I get the feeling that the British Government worked very hard and successfully to eviscerate the ideahe is nodding, so that is right. We should congratulate him. He worked pretty hard to eviscerate the Barroso idea. The trouble is that what is left is completely confusing and I am not sure that it will do the job intended. The present structure will not be adequate to deploy the considerable budget allocated. I read the paper carefullyall about the knowledge and innovation communities. I listened as carefully as I could to the Minister, whom I greatly admire, but at the end I was still not sure what KICs were or in what sense they award degrees, who they are, where they are to be found and exactly what they comprise. The only thing that I know about them is that there must be six of them by 2013. Does a university in itself qualify as a KIC? I am not sure. Then we are told that they are going to be selected, funded and managed by the EIT withthe bit that worries me particularlyan
innovative, two-level model of governance, which combines bottom-up autonomy and flexibility in the delivery with top-down strategic guidance, coordination animation and the facilitation of dialogue, and dissemination of results and good practice.
I do not know what that conceals. There seems to be a great wadge of verbal polyfilla. I would be grateful if the Minister could elucidate how that is supposed to work. How does the bottom-up autonomy of the KICs cohere with the top-down strategic guidance of the EIT? The gist seems to be that the KICs appeal to the EIT for money, in a bottom-up kind of way, and then the EIT gives them huge sums of money in a top-down strategic way. But who are the members of the EIT? Where are they to be found? Who appoints them and
We are told that there is going to be an Areopagus of 19 people and a support staff of about 60, including scientists and other experts. That is to be the number at cruising speedwhatever that may be in Strasbourg. I say Strasbourg, but I imagine that there will be a great deal of argy-bargy still to come over the location even of those 60. That will be a big item in Euro-negotiations for a long time, and there will be a great deal of discussion about how the 19 are to be appointed and about who will be the 60 so lucky as to get their feet under the table. Those are the least of the problems facing the body.
I am not at all sure, and from listening to the Minister I am not sure that he is surein fact, he said so, but perhaps he will clear that up during the debatewhat kind of degree-awarding powers the KICs will have. Will they be like universities, given the right to award degrees by the Privy Council? We are told not. Then, in what sense will degrees be preserved from proliferation in this country? How are we going to ensure quality? That seems to be completely unclear, apart from what the Minister said.
On what basis and by what method will the EIT hand over cash to the six KICs, which must be created by 2013? I would be happy for elucidation, but I can find nothing in the document about the basis on which the EIT is going to decide which KICs deserve to have all the money. It is an opaque, highly centralised and highly bureaucratic process and a return to an attempt to pick winners.
The trouble with the proposal is that the Government have done too good a job on it. They have ripped the heart out of the original Barroso idea, yet they have left traces of the ambition. It is clear that the Commission still wants to be able to say that it has created a European institute of technology and that it has left a wonderful legacy for humanity. Despite everything that the Minister says about wanting a lean, mean approach to the EIT, I am far from certain that someone who reads this document carefully will find that the Commission has abandoned its dreamthe original Barroso dreamof creating a campus full of euroboffins trying to dream up ways of building a better euromousetrap or some such thing. I have a feeling that that dream is still at the back of the Commissions mind.
The hon. Member for Bristol, West was right to point to the reference to a critical mass that remains in the draft regulation. It has been said that the EIT will act as a pole of attraction for the best ideas, minds and companies from around the world. How will that be so if it has just 60 people operating on a lean, mean basis? We are told that it will achieve
a critical mass of human and physical resources
in strategic trans and inter-disciplinary fields of knowledge from partner organisations, thus attracting and retaining high-level researchers, private sector investment and research and development.
In other words, the EIT will avowedly be intent on diverting talent from other institutions. That paragraph cannot be read in any other way. One should roll that phrase a critical mass of human and physical
The fundamental problem is that there are much better ways of getting money from the taxpayer to the best universities. This country has many of the best universities in Europe. Several of Britains universities are in the top 20, and at least two, possibly three, are in the top 10 in the world. Surely the best way to encourage universities and those who work in them to innovate and to bring their products to market is by liberating them from bureaucratic control and not by creating a new eurobureaucracy that is pulling on a string and trying to inspire them to innovate in the way that is being proposed.
The big and most telling difference between this proposal and the real MIT, which doubtless inspired Senhor Barroso, is that this one has signally failed to attract any private sector interest or investment. That is a telling indicator, and it is why so many of us in this Committee, doubtless including the Minister, are worried that the £1.6 billion that will be deployed by the EIT will be siphoned away from other research funding lines, not least the European Research Council.
One does not solve the problem of firms underinvestment in research and development by creating more bureaucracy; nor does one solve the lack of mobility in Europe by creating more bureaucracy. The best way to fund research and to generate knowledge transfer is to build up the existing centres of excellence, of which we have more than a few in this country, and to ensure that the cash goes to them on a quality-related basis that is peer reviewed. We should not to try to construct a new centre of excellencesome new bodyby political fiat.
I am sure that Senhor Barroso will deserve a rich and generous memorial from posterity, but, as currently constructed, this proposal for an EIT is too high a price to pay. I am grateful for the Ministers assurance that he will fight ever harder to instil common sense into the Commission, and I wish him every good fortune in his ventures.
Stephen Williams: I was not sure of the running order in these debates because I have never taken part in one before. I shall not speak at length. I cannot compete with the florid exposition of the hon. Member for Henley, I am sure.
When I first heard about this concept, I was concerned that the EU was trying to build an alternative to MIT, but I am reassured by the Ministers comments that that concept appears to have been abandoned. However, I would still like an answer as to what on earth the reference in the document to the critical mass of physical resources means.
We seem to be left with the rather more nebulous concept of some, perhaps virtual, institution that will none the less have £1.6 billion of European taxpayers money committed to it over six years. That money might be frittered away without making the impact that the document says that Europe needs to make in this area. We already have in this country four of the top 20 universities in the worldOxford, Cambridge, Imperial college and University college London. It would be nice if the EU recognised that and rewarded
The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey said that if the proposal had any reality behind it, it would have something to do with the science parks in the west country. Bristol university, the university of the West of England, and Bath university are coming together to form a science park at Emersons Green, and Bristol has been badged a science city by the Government. If all of that is to mean anything, some of the funding could come to where activity is already to take place, rather than all going to the concept that the EU proposes.
I am still confused, as it seems is the hon. Member for Henley, about what degrees the EIT will issue. I now understand that it will not be a degree-awarding body, but will have its badge placed on the degree certificates of other higher education institutions. I have already asked how quality assurance will be attained, given that the document proposes that the KICs could have two universities, presumably from two member states, or even four universities from different member states, issuing the degree. How will we get pan-European quality assurance that a degree that is taught partly in Cambridge, Paris, Boulogne or wherever will have academic acceptability and transferability around Europe? We already know that the Boulogne process is trying to sort that out across a multitude of European higher education institutions in different degree structures. Will this introduce an added complication?
The Government have done good work in resisting the Commissions initial proposals, but there are still many question marks over the projects budget and purpose, and over whether it can make any impact in bridging the technology transfer gap between this side of the Atlantic and the other side. Many more questions on that need to be answered, and we need to have another, fuller discussion in the not-too-distant future.
Mr. Taylor: When my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, who has an incisive mind, says that he is confused about something, the thing about which he is confused must be very confusing. Evidently, the EIT project has become more confusing rather than less. If the aim were to find an alternative use for the European Parliament building, we could have discussed it on that basis and probably rejected it, although we must find some alternative use for the redundant Parliament building in Strasbourg.
On the other hand, the Minister and I share a more positive view of things European than some people. I am not against the project because it is a European venture. There is no doubt that Europe has a serious problem, which the Minister mentioned. We exploit fewer of our discoveries than the Americans.
Mr. Johnson: For the avoidance of doubt, I just want to reassure my hon. Friend that I am a glutton for European funding for our universities, and have absolutely no hesitation in joining him in supporting
Mr. Taylor: It is a joyous occasion for me when the Front-Bench spokesman and I are in total agreement on things European, so I am grateful for that intervention.
The serious issue here is that the European challenge is one that we can identify, not just in the context of the Lisbon agenda, in which President Barroso was involved. However, the evidence shows that we turn fewer of our discoveries into applications than do the Americans. There are all sorts of reasons for that, which I do not have time to go into. The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey touched on one of themthe proximity and attitude of the venture capital community.
We have to be careful that we do not make things worse. If we are considering the global economy, in which China and India are becoming value-added economies knowledge economies rather than just countries to which we outsourcewe should start to pay much more attention to the centres of excellence that we have in Europe, and build on them. My fear about the EIT, even as reconstituted through the brilliant negotiating skills of the Minister, is that in a sense it will mean money for departments that are four star and aspire to be better. Continental European universities do very badly in the global table.
I would add to the comments of the hon. Member for Bristol, West that Manchester university in its unified form is emerging as another of our great centres of research in its breadth and depth. However, on the continent there are few centres of excellenceapart, possibly, from Zurich universityon a global scale with a brand that attracts top world engineers and scientific researchers to study there. I am therefore, paradoxically, worried by the Ministers success. We might find that this becomes a done deal and misses the point about what Europe is struggling to achieve.
Let me help the Minister by drawing attention to the Finnish organisation Tekes, which has invested a large amount of money in research and development projects in Finland in order to boost its economy and improve its innovation and competitiveness. The majority of the proposals that it has backed have been put forward by companies rather than universities, although the universities are involved in the collaborative process. The leading research-driven companies in the world know where the centres of excellence are. Rolls-Royce has 26 centres of excellence around the world, and it will drop one and add another if it feels that the excellence is not maintained.
The Commission should concentrate on what it has already proven that it is good atthe framework programmes. Framework 7 is very exciting. As a science Minister, I was involved in framework 5 and preparing for framework 6. We have moved onthese things take timeand the framework programmes are now an established way of bringing people together on projects that are regarded as excellent and worth while within the European Union. The European Research
I recently proposed for the delectation of the Conservative party an innovative projects agency, which would pull together many of the dispersed efforts that go on in the UK to encourage innovationdetails are freely available on my website. If my hon. Friend the Member for Henley can mention one of his books, I can certainly mention my website.
There is undoubtedly a challenge for Europe, but this is not the right way to respond to it. In a sense, this is Barrosos legacy, and it is not a very good one. We must find a better one for him.
Grant Shapps: A very grand plan has been watered down, apparently through some excellent negotiation, into a much lesser plan that is in many ways even worse. We have ended up with a £1.6 billion budget for the project, which is a lot of money in the context of the hospital being closed in my constituency, for example, but very little in the context of the tech market and the innovations of some of the American institutions, such as Stanford and elsewhere. A deal such as the $1.7 billion one struck for the sale of YouTube, a company still in its embryonic stage, is almost an everydaycertainly an every-monthevent.
The figures for the budget are calculated many years in advance, and we are not talking about a lot of cash over a 10-year period. The table on page 47 of the document sets out something of how the money will be spent on structure and resources. If 60 people are employed, they will have to go somewherethey will need a building and all the bureaucracy and support that go with it. I wonder whether that is a good way to tax £1.6 billion and spend it. We have ended up with a plan that was grand but is now much smaller, and we may be throwing a lot of the money down the drain.
We have not heard about how the KICs projects will be picked, and I would be interested in any information that the Minister can provide. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley was trying to make head or tail of the issue. I think that neither the EIT nor the KICs, but the individual institutions that already exist across Europe will award the degrees. It will be a badging exercise, and I imagine that the degree will have an also sponsored by logo. It reminds me of when an airline says that it covers the globe, but it does notit has its routes, but it also has partners in other countries to allow additional coverage, and we end up with the Star Alliance.
Mr. Johnson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that elucidation of who could award the degree. He says that it would be the existing institution. However, is he sure that every KIC must have a university as part of its make-up?
Grant Shapps: From the document, it is hard to tell. I see that six of the KICs would be a combination of organisations. I imagine that a company such as Hewlett-Packard would get thrown in with a university such as Cambridge. However, as with the Star Alliance
There is no way that such a qualification will ever maintain any kind of status. How could the production by a £1.6 billion project, over many years, of a logo that could be stuck on somebody elses degree add extra cachet or benefit? The idea is ludicrous. It is almost as if the entire proposal is operating in a parallel world, in which the 20 leading, groundbreaking, great institutions across the world do not exist. The time for the idea has both come and gone.
I encourage the Minister to go even further than he has this afternoon, by saying that further negotiation is required before £1.6 billion of taxpayers money is spent on a code-share degree. He should also realise that if we truly want to encourage innovation, the way to spend £1.6 billion of taxpayers money is to reduce bureaucracy, red tape and taxation on innovation. That would be a far better way to spend the money.
Derek Wyatt: I agree with almost everything that the hon. Member for Esher and Walton has said, but I want to add to one or two things to which we have alluded. Apart from Imperial, Oxford and Cambridge, there is not one European university among the university of Shanghais top 500 universities. The Times list includes five or six European universities, but they are between 70th and 90th places. That shows that the UK is so far ahead in this area, and especially in postgraduate research, that we do not need the institute.
If they thought about it, the Europeans would realise that they have the wrong model. If it is to be bottom-up, they should be looking to create an office of intellectual property and considering what the Gowers review said about venture capital science parks. Indeed, we have led in that area not only at Bristol, but at Nottingham and Manchester, Oxford and Surrey and Cambridgewhat is coming out of these places is phenomenal. It is disappointing that we do not see more patenting from those parks, although that is separate issue.
In a sense, this is the continental Europe solution, but it is the wrong solution even for continental Europe. I have moved during the debate to thinking that it is the wrong answer. I agree that the Minister should stiffen his sinews and that we should not go ahead, because the EIT is not the answer. For instance, the Cambridge-MIT institute, which has been running for seven and a half years, was originally a £60 million project, but can anyone name a patent that has come out of it? Can anyone name even one company that has resulted? That is not an inconsiderable amount of money for a university to have, and Cambridge is second only to Imperial in computer science and maths, so why has more not come out of that project?
Perhaps we could look at that pattern to find out why it has not worked well and why it is not therefore the solution. The best centres are properly established, and centres of excellence cannot be built quickly. They take 50 or 100 years to establish, and they depend on the brilliance of the research done there and the professors who lead them. This is not the right model for Europe. We should be much more proactive, but can we be? We need to start again, because it is the wrong model.
Bill Rammell: We have had an instructive and important debate. In the brief time left to me I shall respond to some of the points that have been made.
I will start with the hon. Member for Henley. He spoke of the Government being opposed to this proposition. We are opposed to it as it stands now. We have made some progress in the right direction, and with further detail and clarification and with more movement it could be worth supporting, not least because of the knowledge transfer deficit, to which I shall return.
The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about the time scale. The December European Council concluded that it and the European Parliament should move swiftly to adopt a decision in 2007. The Commission then proposed that two KICs should be set up 2009, with a further four to be formed in 2012. That depends on progress in the negotiations, which will be subject to the co-decision procedure. The European Parliament is due to have a first reading of the proposal in the spring, but as I have said on a number of occasions, a significant amount of work remains to be done. I welcome the hon. Gentlemans acknowledgment that we have done a great deal to move the proposition in the right direction, and we will certainly keep working at that.
The hon. Gentleman and others have asked what areas the KICs would cover. It is crucial that they are bottom-up organisations, but given the importance of tackling climate change, one has been proposed in the field of environmental technologies. That could put the European Union in a leading position, but it needs to be genuinely bottom-up.
As for the balance between bottom-up and top-down, it is important that the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament give a broad steer on the kind of areas in which they envisage such activities taking place. However, if the proposal is to work organically on the ground, the knowledge and innovation communities must come together to advance their propositions, which will be judged one against another by the board and other funding routes.
A number of hon. Members have asked who will award the degrees. I think that my instinct on that was right, but let me be specific: the individual institution or institutions will award the degrees; neither the EIT nor the KICs will award the degrees. Degrees will be awarded subject to the systems of individual member states, which is right given that education is a national, member state competence. There may be provision for some form of EIT badge, but the primacy of individual institutions needs to be safeguarded. The reason why we have moved from where we were to where we are today is that we have strongly argued for that.
Mr. Johnson: I have two questions arising from that. Could a degree be awarded by any institution other than a university that was part of the KIC, and if so, would a student being awarded a degree by that institution be aware that they were in fact getting an EIT degree? How would they know that they were getting an EIT degree?
Bill Rammell: It will depend on the national accreditation and validation system that exists in every country as to whether it is exclusively a university institution that is involved or whether another body is involved. If the badging process is in place, the student will be aware that the body is part of a KIC. I imagine that, because of the prospectus that is sent out to the student, they will be very clear on that. However, we need to recognise that what we are discussing is much broader than educational provision to the individual student. It is about engagement with business, working together with research institutions, and knowledge transfer. It is not exclusively about higher education provision to students.
Mr. Taylor: I seek clarification, because I am now becoming confused. I thought that this was geared towards research and therefore inferred that it was about the postgraduate level. I just want to be clear about that.
Bill Rammell: That is the case. I have been dragged down the path of accreditation and who will award the degrees because of some of the questioning today, but the scheme will predominantly operate at postgraduate level and will be about interaction with research institutes and business to try to tackle the knowledge transfer deficit.
Several hon. Members have asked about our overall aim. We have been seeking, and we will continue to seek, to channel the ambition of the Commission proposal into a manageable format. It is in a more manageable format today than it was when the process started, and that will and should continue.
The hon. Member for Bristol, West, who leads for the Liberal Democrats, acknowledged the reassurances that have been given and the progress that has been made, and I welcome his comments in that regard. He then talked about the quality assurance of degrees, which is an important point. As individual higher education institutions will retain the power to award degrees in the system of the member state in which they are situated, they will be properly subject to the quality assurance procedures of that member state, as would be the case for other educational provision. We have already agreed European standards and guidelines for quality assurance as part of the overall Bologna process, on which I am sure that I will engage with the hon. Gentleman in Select Committee tomorrow morning. Provision for quality assurance of joint degrees would be the same here as it is for existing courses. It is important that we do not leap from the justifiable concern about quality to a position in which we say that joint degree provision across national boundaries is not deliverable. If we can get it and the quality framework right, that can add to the options available for people not only throughout the European Union, but in the wider international community.
The hon. Member for Esher and WaltonI was going to say my hon. Friend, which is probably the case for many reasonstalked about his belief in the European Union, which is very similar to mine. It comes from a constructively pro-European perspective of recognising and believing that there are a number of things that we can achieve together across national boundaries that we could not achieve on our own. However, since I have been undertaking this ministerial portfolio, I have been struck by the degree to which the European Union needs to ensure that its propositions add value in matters that cannot be tackled at a national level, on which it properly has competence. This is probably the fourth or fifth such Committee that I have done, and I feel that too often the Commission seeks to push the boundaries of its competence within education in a way that even I, as a constructive pro-European, do not think is necessarily the best way forward. That is part of the debate that we are having elsewhere in the Council and Commission.
I acknowledge the hon. Gentlemans strong support for the seventh framework programme, which the Government strongly support as well. It is important to put the scale of the proposal into context. The EIT would cost about £1.6 billion, whereas the seventh framework programme is, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, worth more than €50 billion. It is a substantially greater proposition, and it is crucial that we do not detract from it, which has been a key element in our negotiating stance.
The hon. Gentleman made another important point about quality. It is important to make it clear that the EIT will be open to the rest of the world and that to attract the best brains from around the world it is essential that it supports only top institutions and businesses. That is why the Government are insisting that excellence be a primary criterion for funding.
The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield got in a quick aside about his alleged hospital closure. I am not aware of the details, but I would say this: a pensioner waiting for a cataract operation will probably wait three months today, whereas 10 years ago, they would have waited for two years. That does not mean that everything is perfect, but there has been significant progress in health outcomes for individuals.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the administrative back-up for the EIT. We have been very clear that in moving from a centralised, grandiosein some sensesinstitution to a much smaller operation, the administrative back-up has to be small, lean and bottom-up. I think that some of his remarks, which were similar to those of the hon. Member for Bristol, West, almost tendedI am sure that this was not where either hon. Member intended to goto argue against joint degrees. I believe strongly that joint degrees across national boundaries can be of benefit.
Mr. Johnson: A quick question: in the course of negotiations, has the Minister been asking that the EIT be located in Britain?
Bill Rammell: That is not on our list of immediate priorities, because I do not think that where 60 individuals are based is in any way, shape or form the most important question to be addressed. Frankly,
Bill Rammell: I am not aware of any interest thus far on the part of the UK higher education community in the need to seek that administrative base. If the proposition moves in the right direction, the location of that administrative base will be the least important concern.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey takes a consistent interest in these issues. The European Union faces challenges over the excellence of our institutions, but I think that he has overstated the caseI think that two Asian and eight European institutions are in the top 50, and the rest are in the United States. We need to do more, which is why, in part, we have been leading the debate in the EU on the need for a broader higher education reform programme.
In conclusion, I think that we have made progress, but important questions remain to be addressed. We lack a justification for the substantial budget size proposed by the Commission and a breakdown of what the funds are likely to spent on. There is a lack of clarity on where funds will come from, on the extent to which member states will be expected to contribute, on how market funding will be attracted and on the impact on other budget priorities. We are seeking further clarification and refinement by using all available avenues, and we will then report back to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 14871/06 and Addenda 1 and 2, draft Regulation establishing the European Institute of Technology; and supports the Governments view that while the Proposal will potentially provide a means of strengthening innovation and competitiveness, a number of issues still need to be addressed before the Government can support this Proposal.
Committee rose at five minutes to Six oclock.
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