Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


EUROPEAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (6844/06, 10361/06)

Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell MP, Minister for Life-long Learning, Further and Higher Education, Department for Education and Skills

  Your Explanatory Memorandum dated 16 March was considered by Sub-Committee G on 30 March.

  We acknowledge that these are very important proposals which require extremely careful consideration, and which we will want to examine more closely.

  At first sight, we share some of the Government's caution. We have also seen the critical debate in the media over the idea. Although the Commission have identified many of the relevant problems, we are not yet satisfied that their Communication has demonstrated that the EIT would be an effective solution.

  It is regrettable that the conclusions of the March European Council were taken before the Commission's Communication could be given adequate Parliamentary scrutiny. We trust that those conclusions will not be regarded as a foregone political conclusion in favour of the idea and would welcome your report and comments on the discussions at the Council about this.

  We need more time to consider the highly detailed analysis of the Commission's questionnaire and the Government's response to it. But we note that the questionnaire appeared to assume that the EIT was necessary and did not seem to ask searching questions about how effective it was likely to be in practice or whether the desired results could be better achieved in other ways.

  We would welcome your comments on the methodology used by the Commission in their consultation, about which we have some doubts.

  Much more hard information will be needed on the way that the EIT is supposed to work in practice and how it will be funded. We share your concerns over the possible opportunity cost to other EU education and research programmes and will want to see evidence to support the apparent assumption that the EIT would attract sufficient funding from business, non-official grants and revenue-raising activities. Searching questions will also need to be asked about the legal base for the Institution, its operational structure and how the proposed "knowledge communities" are supposed to work, including how intellectual property rights will be handled.

  Although we note that the Commission will be expected to produce more detailed proposals by June of this year, it is not clear from your EM how much work the Government plans to do on the Proposal in the meantime. We would be glad to know whether you intend to carry out further consultations at this stage with the academic, research and business communities in the UK, as well as with the Commission and other Member States.

  We will hold this document under scrutiny pending your reply.

30 March 2006

Letter from Bill Rammell MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 30 March in response to the Explanatory Memorandum on developing a European Institute of Technology (EIT). You asked for a report on the March European Council discussions on the Commission's communication.

  As you know, this communication was discussed by the European Council on 24 March. The conclusions of that discussion noted the significance of the Commission's communication, recognised that an EIT would be an important step to fill the existing gap between higher education, research and innovation, and invited the Commission to submit a proposal on further steps by mid-June 2006. We will continue to encourage the Commission that those next steps should involve bringing together both universities and the business community to explore the options.

  We think this is important, not least because we share some of your concerns about the Commission's consultation last year and whether the model being proposed by the Commission is necessarily the most effective way forward. We also agree that there needs to be much more clarity about how the project would work in practice, the scale of resources needed for it and where that funding would come from.

  It is however very clear that one of the real deficits in terms of the performance of European universities when compared to their US counterparts is the extent to which the outputs of research are exploited commercially. An initiative which successfully improved networking and collaboration between universities and business across Europe would be of real benefit.

  Finally, you asked in particular about the further consultations that we are planning on this proposal. Although the proposal is still at a very early stage, we have been informally seeking views from a number of stakeholders, including the CBI and Universities UK, and we are encouraging the Commission and other Member States that the next steps should include some further consultation with leading higher education institutions and leading research and development intensive businesses.

25 April 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 25 April which was considered by Sub-Committee G on 4 May. We are grateful for your report on discussion of the Communication at the European Council on 24 March. You will see from my letter to you dated 30 March that we were concerned that the Council's statement could be interpreted as a foregone political conclusion in favour of the EIT concept. We are therefore glad to know that the Government support the need for the concept to be explored more thoroughly in full consultation with universities and the business community.

  I am sure you would agree that the need for that thorough examination was amply borne out by some of the contributions to the Debate in the House on Lord Patten's Question about the role of British and other European universities in the promotion of research and development on 27 April.

  During that Debate the Chairman of Sub-Committee G, Baroness Thomas of Walliswood, drew attention to some of the deficiencies in the Commission's web-based questionnaire which we understand was their sole, means of formal consultation. In my letter to you dated 30 March I said that we needed more time to consider the Commission's analysis of the results of that consultation. Having done so, we thought it might be helpful if we were to share with you some of our preliminary impressions of that analysis, which are enclosed. Your comments would be most welcome.

  You will see that our impressions tend to bear out some of the initial concerns about the consultation which I raised in my letter dated 30 March and which suggest serious shortcomings in the Commission's methodology. We would be glad to know whether you regard this as a valid or sufficient way for the Commission to carry out their obligation to consult and to know how much weight you think should be given to their findings in the circumstances.

  We are glad that the Government has now started to seek views from UK stakeholders, including the CBI and Universities UK and is encouraging the Commission and Member States to take parallel steps. We hope, however, that your informal consultations will range more widely and include not only universities but also independent research bodies, learned societies, professional institutions and organisations like the Skills Councils so as to give an assessment that is as wide and authoritative as possible not only on the need for the Institute but also on the best way of using it to achieve the desired result of improved co-ordination between higher education, research and innovation in making the most of European scientific and technological expertise.

  We will continue to hold the Commission Communication under scrutiny and look forward to your further report in due course.

5 May 2006

Annex A

Results of the public consultation on a concept of a European Institute of Technology (EIT)

BACKGROUND

  1.  In March 2005 the European Commission published its Mid-Term Review of the Lisbon Strategy, which proposed a "European Institute of Technology" (EIT). After consideration, the European Council instructed the Commission to develop its proposals further. Subsequently a public consultation was organised between September and November 2005 and 741 responses were submitted via a web-based questionnaire. In March 2006, the Commission published its analysis of the consultation. This paper presents its key findings and provides a critique of the European Commission's conclusions on the EIT.

OVERVIEW

  2.  The European Commission in conducting this consultation did not select a representative cross-section of the European Research and Development (R&D) sector. The sample was therefore entirely self-selecting, for example giving equal weight and credence to both the University of Cambridge and any interested private citizen. It is worth noting as an example of its unrepresentative nature that almost one third of all respondents were individuals from Poland and Italy (12 per cent and 18 per cent respectively). Only 4.7 per cent of total respondents were from the United Kingdom (see Annex 1).

  3.  Universities, research organisations and business constituted only a minority of respondents (28 per cent), while individuals comprised 72 per cent of the total. This indicates a genuine failure of the consultation to seek a thorough and empirical assessment of the views of the established R&D sector. For example, the research and education sectors are considered jointly for organisations but separately for individuals. Further examination of the results reveals that private businesses made up only 18 per cent of respondents and that within the research and education sector specifically only 6 per cent of respondents were from the private sector.

  4.  The report also grouped responses from EU Member States and non-EU countries into five separate categories for the purposes of analysis (Southern, Central, Northern, and Eastern Europe; as well as Candidate and other countries). However, the grouping of responses is based purely on a geographical location and does not accurately reflect existing R&D links between EU Member States. The UK and Ireland for example are arbitrarily included in the same category as the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

  5.  The European Commission's analysis of the results also has some alarming weaknesses and inconsistencies. For example, it attempts to extrapolate qualitative conclusions from quantitative results, based on a subjective interpretation of sample responses. Also included in the qualitative analysis were 22 position papers submitted separately to the Commission in a different format, further weakening the integrity and validity of its conclusions.

  Question One: What should be the main objective of the EIT?


EIT Mission
% of responses

Education
4
Research and research training
17
Commercial exploitation of research results
12
Knowledge triangle
63
Other
5


  6.  The most significant weakness of this public consultation is that it did not ask respondents whether the EIT should be established by posing a straightforward and unambiguous question that would elicit a clear answer. The consultation simply proposed four options: education; research and training; commercial exploitation; or the "knowledge triangle". The last option complicates accurate analysis as the European Commission defines the "knowledge triangle" as combining education, research and technology transfer (ie: commercial exploitation). It is effectively an option for "all of the above", while assigning no relative value to the three sides of the triangle.

  Question Two: How can the EIT best contribute above and beyond current provision in this area (teaching, research and technology transfer)?



Added Value
% of response

Networking between Higher Education Institutes
11
Promoting intra-EU mobility
7
Attracting talent
14
Creating economies of scale in research
4
Building synergies with the EU Research Framework Programme
5
Promoting innovation and knowledge transfer
18
Best practice dissemination
7
Encouraging collaboration between research and industry
19
Developing commercial opportunities for research products
7
Supporting SMEs and local and regional development
6
Other
3

  7.  The question states the EIT must add value to each area of the "knowledge triangle" or a combination of all three, and provides eleven multiple choice answers to achieve this objective. However, the respondent is unable to allocate an answer to any one of the individual areas, providing only a generic answer for three very different activities. In addition, respondents were given the ability to choose two answers from the eleven options but no facility to rank or weight their answers, further weakening the robustness of the data.


Added Value
% of response

Academic Impact
36
Industrial Impact
49

  8.  The report also separated the data collected into "industrial impact"[199] and "academic impact"[200] by subjectively grouping four answers together in each category. In practice though, the answers overlap so considerably and are so generally applicable that they could conceivably be included in either industrial or academic impact. The report inaccurately concludes that industrial impact is valued more highly than academic impact, despite respondents not being made aware of this distinction in the questionnaire.

  Question Three: Which type of institutional format would best allow the EIT to achieve these goals?


Structure
% of responses

Single institution
26
Small network
30
Large network
24
Label
12
Other
9

  9.  The consultation proposed four options for the structure of the EIT. These were a single institution; a small network (4-6 institutions); a large network (15-25 institutions); or a "label." The consultation provided very limited information about the nature or scope of these options and this contributed to no clear majority in favour of any option. While the report admits "no clear preferences are discernable from the replies", it goes on to conclude that "integration is relatively preferred". It reaches this conclusion by combining the positive responses to both the small and large network options. Once again, the report seeks to artificially conflate answers to multiple proposals in order to support a weak assessment.

  Question Four: How should the EIT organise its teaching/research/transfer activities?


Priority
% of responses

Issue-driven
24
Discipline orientated
15
Thematically organised
37
Industry-orientated
15
Other
9

  10.  Respondents were asked whether the EIT should divide its activities based on issues, disciplines, themes or by industry sector. However, two problems arise from this approach. First is that the terms are broadly defined and have considerable overlap, for example wind power generation is given as an issue but "green energy" as a theme. Secondly, the issue of structure will affect what types of research the EIT conducts, ie a small network could be more suited to addressing a narrow problem, while a large network would perhaps be more inclined to tackle wider policy issues. In addition, the recurrent problem of combining three distinct activities (teaching, research and transfer) does not allow respondents to reflect accurately the specialist and varied requirements of each activity. It is worth noting that, in any case, no majority was in favour of a particular organisational approach.

GENERAL CONCLUSIONS

  11.  The report concludes that there is a positive attitude to the establishment of an EIT. This is unsurprising given the wording of the questions and the absence of an option to register opposition. Furthermore, the report states there is general agreement that the EIT's main mission should be to integrate the "knowledge triangle". In the questionnaire, this is defined as teaching, research and technology transfer, yet in the general conclusion it is defined as research, education and innovation. Altering the components for the professed main objective of the EIT during the course of the consultation underscores its characteristic of poorly defined terms and weak analysis.

  12.  The conclusion then goes onto to outline how the EIT could provide education and award degrees yet does so without clear agreement from the existing higher education sector about the preferred structure. It is also undermined by the fact that only a tiny percentage of respondents (4 per cent) thought the EIT should provide education services. Many of those who raised concerns during the consultation referred to the danger of the EIT crowding out private and public finance and setting up rival programmes that undermine existing national education institutes or established European networks.

UK GOVERNMENT VIEW

  13.  The Government notes that there is a "high degree of scepticism" exhibited by UK Universities and states it "shares some of their doubts". It comments that a new institution may not be the best way of addressing the European Union's R&D weaknesses and expresses concern over its impact on existing European research programmes. The Government calls for further discussion and consultation with businesses and universities.[201]

Annex 1

  UK organisations that responded to the European Commission's public consultation on the European Institute of Technology:

AbilityNet.
EuroMotor Project, University of Birmingham.
European Consortium of Innovative Universities.
Liverpool Hope University.
Liverpool John Moores University.
Marinetech South Ltd.
Metatree Ltd.
MyKnowledgeMap Limited.
Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Royal Society of London.
The National Business-to-Business Centre, University of Warwick.
UK Computing Research Centre.
UK Government.
Universities Scotland.
Universities UK.
University of Cambridge.
University of Lincoln.
University of Strathclyde.


Letter from Bill Rammell MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 5 May and your Committee's impressions of the Commission's analysis of the results of its consultation on the concept of a European Institute of Technology (EIT). I am writing to provide a progress report on recent developments and, particularly, to follow up your concerns about consultation.

  Following the European Council on 24 March, the Commission has continued to work on the EIT concept with a view to preparing a new Communication for the Spring Council on 15-16 June. We are pleased that this has involved an extensive consultation process with Member States and stakeholders over the last few weeks and that the Commission has shown that it is open to feedback and suggestions from all possible stakeholders. Our understanding is that general agreement is emerging from these consultations on the Commission's background analysis of gaps and needs and the need for a concerted effort to harness Europe's capacity in the knowledge triangle of education, research and innovation. During the consultations we have made it clear that we believe that a well-focused and well-designed EIT could be an important step to fill the existing gap between higher education, research and innovation, but that we have a number of concerns as to whether the model being proposed by the Commission is necessarily the most effective way forward. A number of other Member States have shared our concerns. We are looking to the new Communication due later this month to provide additional information on the concept and to address the main concerns that have been expressed by Member States and stakeholders. We expect the Commission to continue to consult widely with Member States and stakeholders over the coming months.

14 June 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 14 June reporting progress on the Proposal. This was considered by Sub-Committee G on 22 June.

  We understand from your officials that the Commission produced the expected new Communication for the Spring Council on 15-16 June. We presume that this will be submitted for scrutiny shortly by the Department, together with an accompanying EM, which we look forward to examining. In the meantime, we will continue to hold the Commission's present Communication under scrutiny.

  We would also like to take the opportunity of drawing your attention to a reference to the EIT in the Report of the Committee's Inquiry on the European Research Council which was published on 9 June (HL Paper 182). We note with interest what your colleague David Sainsbury had to say about the EIT proposal to that Inquiry. I attach a copy of the relevant extract from the Report, (not printed).

23 June 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell MP

  Your Explanatory Memorandum (EM) dated June 2006 was considered by Sub-Committee G on 13 July.

  You should be aware from our previous correspondence about the original Commission Communication (6844/06) of our scepticism towards this Proposal and our dissatisfaction with the Commission's failure to produce a convincing substantive evidence-based case for it. We were therefore very surprised that the Government should have gone along with the statement in the conclusions of the 15-16 June European Council which reaffirmed the importance of the EIT and appeared to treat it as a foregone conclusion. When Geoff Hoon gave oral evidence to the Select Committee today we asked him to look into this, but we would also welcome your views.

  The mildly cautious approach of your EM does not seem to us to be consistent with clarity expressed by your Ministerial colleague David Sainsbury in giving evidence to the Committee's Inquiry on the European Research Council, to which I drew your attention in my letter to you dated 23 June. The extract from the Inquiry Report (HL Paper 182) which I enclosed with that letter records David Sainsbury as describing the EIT project as "unhelpful... simplistic... and naive". He thought it would be more sensible to build on the EU's existing world class universities than attempt to start another one. Here again, your views would be welcome.

  You should also be aware of the considerable opposition which this Proposal has provoked from leaders of academic opinion in the UK. That opposition was reflected in some of the contributions to the debate in the House on Lord Patten's Question about the role of British and other European universities in the promotion of research and development on 27 April, to which I drew your attention in my letter to you dated 5 May.

  In that same letter I passed on some of our preliminary impressions of our own analysis of the Commission's initial consultation about the project which seemed to be defective in numerous respects and not least because it started with the questionable assumption that an EIT of some sort was necessary.

  For all these reasons, we are disappointed that the Government should not have adopted a far more rigorous questioning approach to this Proposal. We see a real danger that the Council may be drifting through seeming acquiescence into an ill-conceived venture that risks diverting attention and resources from the very serious and pressing problems which the Commission has outlined.

  We find the Commission's latest Communication no more convincing that the previous one. It offers no objective analysis of the pros and cons of the Proposal. It reads more like a superficial sales brochure and is stuffed with jargon, hackneyed references to "flagships", sloppy thinking and unarticulated concepts about the "knowledge triangle" and "knowledge communities" that inspire neither respect nor confidence.

  To some extent the EIT project appears to be a rather grandiose and less well-considered version of the new UK Institution of Engineering and Technology and we wonder whether would be in the national interest for the Government to support what may well turn out to be a rival body.

  In your letter to me dated 25 April you said that the Government was starting to seek views from UK stakeholders on the Proposal. In my reply to you dated 5 May I urged you to extend that consultation more widely. We look forward to hearing what progress you have made in those consultations.

  We also urge that the Government should press the Commission directly, and in consultation with other Member States, for a much more rigorous and objective assessment of the merits in this Proposal than it has so far made.

  We believe that searching questions must be asked about the reasons why this model might be more successful in remedying the problems identified by the Commission than alternative solutions. We need to be clear how the project would work in practice and how much initial funding would be needed from the Community and Member States. Any assumptions about the added value which the EIT might yield would need to be tested against the possible opportunity cost to other EU education and research programmes, including the European Research Council.

  The Commission must be required to demonstrate the grounds for their belief that the EIT would succeed in attracting sufficient high-quality expertise and adequate counterpart funding from business, non-official grants and revenue-raising activities. We will also want to see a clear justification for the proposed awarding of degrees and diplomas and to know how they will be awarded and administered. As I have mentioned in earlier correspondence, we will also need to see more concrete proposals for the legal status of the EIT and its "knowledge communities", and how such issues as intellectual property rights would be handled.

  It is not clear from your EM whether any discussion is expected in Council Working Groups in the Autumn on the new Communication. But we note that the Commission have promised to continue to consult with Member States and stakeholders over the coming months and we trust that this will give the Government the opportunity of pressing the Commission to justify their case on all these aspects before more formal proposals for the EIT are produced.

  Because of the importance of the underlying issues and the inadequacy of the Commission's Communications to date, we are considering the possibility of carrying out a short Inquiry on the EIT project when Parliament resumes in the Autumn. It would therefore be most helpful to know as soon as you have clearer indications of the likely timing of the Commission's formal proposals and the expected timetable for Council consideration of them.

  In the meantime, we are clearing the previous Commission Communication (reference 6844/06) from scrutiny. We will hold the new Communication (reference 10361/06) under scrutiny pending your reply.

14 July 2006

Letter from Bill Rammell MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 14 July and your Committee's comments on the latest communication from the Council on the EIT. I am writing to clarify the Government's position.

  First, it may be helpful to set out what I understand to be the latest position on the Commission's proposal. In line with the conclusions of the European Council in June the Commission is working on further developing their ideas with a view to producing a formal legislative proposal in October to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Prior to this in September there is expected to be a further round of consultation meetings with both Member States and other stakeholders.

  It is important to keep in mind that, as there has not yet been a formal Commission proposal, there has been no opportunity for any detailed discussion in the Council of Ministers or its working bodies. The Commission's formal proposal, which will be accompanied by a full impact assessment, is not expected until mid-October.

  As I explained in my letter of 14 June, we have made it clear from the outset, including in our response to the original Commission consultation last year, that we believe that a well-focused and well-designed EIT could be an important step to fill the existing gap between higher education, research and innovation. It would however need to demonstrate that it could help to generate reform of the university sector, increase Europe's innovative capacity and add value rather than duplicate existing initiatives.

  We therefore recognise the potential benefit of an initiative that would improve colloboration between universities and business in the area of knowledge transfer. And I fully agree with you that, if an EIT is to add value, it needs to focus on building on and developing existing partnerships which are already working well and helping them to move into the excellent class. It would be the focus on knowledge transfer and research-based innovation that would distinguish an EIT from other activities, such as the newly created UK Institution of Engineering and Technology.

  We have, however, had, and continue to have, a number of concerns as to whether the model that has been proposed by the Commission to date is necessarily the most effective way forward. I would suggest that it is in this context that Lord Sainsbury's comments to the Inquiry in February need to be viewed, particularly as they were made before the Commission had even presented its initial communication on developing the EIT. I am also well aware that we share these concerns with the UK higher education and business sectors as well as a number of other Member States. That is why we were pleased to see the Commission acknowledge in its latest communication the complexity of the issues concerned and recognise that it will need to continue consulting widely with Member States and stakeholders.

  I wish to assure you that the Government has adopted a rigorous questioning approach throughout the consultations and has been working closely with other Member States to try to influence informally the Commission's further development of the proposal. We have involved representatives of both the higher education sector and the CBI in developing the position we should take to lobby the Commission and other Member States and we have ensured that UK stakeholders were involved in formal consultation meetings with the Commission on 25 April and 18 May. We will continue to consult informally with our key stakeholders as necessary.

  I can also assure you that the particular issues that you have set out in your letter are precisely those that the Government raised at meetings with the Commission and other Member States on 24 April and 17 May. Together with several other Member States, we sought clarity on how the EIT would work in practice, what funding would be needed and where it would come from, and what the added value of the EIT would be in the light of other EU initiatives.

  We will continue to press the Commission on the specific issues you have raised and on our other concerns, including at the next formal consultation meeting on 8 September.

25 July 2006



199   Building synergies with the EU Research Framework Programme; Promoting innovation and knowledge transfer; Encouraging collaboration between research and industry; Developing commercial opportunities for research products. Back

200   Networking between Higher Education Institutes; Promoting intra-EU mobility; Attracting talent; Creating economies of scale in research. Back

201   Explanatory Memorandum on a European Community Document (6844/06 + ADD 1), see E/05-06/G323 (SCR). Back


 
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