EIT: European MIT, Technological EUI or none of the above?

The European Commission will propose to the European Council to set up a European Institute of Technology, also known as the European MIT. The Commission President Barosso puts it like this: “Excellence needs flagships: that is why Europe must have a strong European Institute of Technology, bringing together the best brains and companies and disseminating the results throughout Europe”
The EIT will not be a brick-and-mortar institution. Its structure will consist of two levels: a Governing Board with a small supporting administration and a set of Knowledge Communities, distributed all over Europe. These Knowledge Communities carry out the activities in strategic trans-disciplinary areas. The EIT is expected to receive funding from a variety of sources including the EU, the Member States and the business community.

In terms of research, I can not really see what will be the difference with another proposed institution: the European Research Council. In my view, the major difference is that the EIT, unlike the ERC, is primarily focused on technology and its relation to industry. According to the Commission:

“The EIT will be a knowledge operator, not a funding agency as such. It will carry out activities around the three parts of the knowledge triangle: it will educate, do research, and seek to apply the outcomes of that research to commercial ends. (…)The European Research Council is a proposal under the Seventh Framework Programme. It will provide funding to research projects which push forward the frontiers of our knowledge, taking us into new areas. It will fund individual teams or even individuals, on the basis of the sole criterion of excellence.”

The knowledge communities in the framework programmes were organized in so-called Networks of Excellence. Again, here I do not see too much added value in comparison to the ERC. The Commission says that:

“..while participants in the Networks of Excellence simply agree to cooperate, the EIT involves a much closer relationship. Institutions and companies will not merely be connected and exchanging information; they will be working together on a daily basis towards common objectives.”

However, what I miss most in the proposal is any statement about the way that education will be organized in the EIT. Since it physically is not a real university, but relies on its knowledge communities, where do students go? The commission is very explicit that it wants to incorporate education and that it also in that sense is different from the ERC. However I have failed to see any concrete proposal on the educational activities of the EIT. Will they physically be located in one university? Or do they go from one university to another (like in the Erasmus Mundus Programme)? Who is responsible for developing the curriculum? Can the EIT award degrees?

It is obvious that the name European Institute of Technology implies that it in some way wants to emulate the success of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Of course, the MIT has a very good reputation and this reputation is to a considerable extent based on its research. But also in terms of education it ranks as one of the best in the US. Proposing an EIT without any idea about your education (except saying that you want to be excellent) is an insult to the reference to MIT.

Apart from some political issues (location, location), I don’t see why there should not be a brick and mortar institution somewhere in Europe. And then, why not take the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, Italy as an example. After all, this university has gained an excellent reputation in the social sciences. The idea of a brick and mortar EIT was still real in October 2005, when Scotland placed a bid to host the institute. Maybe, in terms of location (and climate), the Commission should also learn from the EUI in Florence..

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