Press The Role of Universities in Smart Specialisation Strategies

Opinion Articles | 06-09-2013 in European University Association EUA

Introductory remarks to a European University Association EUA report on the role of universities in the future development Smart Specialisation Strategies:

Research and innovation are the foundation on which further economic development and job creation can be built. Advancements in science are crucial to the improvement of our quality of life as this includes such matters of direct concern to Europeans as health or air and water quality. We cannot achieve improvements in the quality of life in Europe without a properly weighted budget that promotes the distinct advantages of research at European level.  Horizon 2020 - the European Research and Innovation programme that will run from 2014 to 2020 with a budget of €70 billion - is a cornerstone of European policy in this respect. The sole criterion for Horizon 2020 is excellence, without geographical constraints.   

Another policy of major importance is regional policy.  The major objective of this policy is to support economic cohesion, reduce socio-economic disparities between the different European regions and to promote growth.  Research, technological development and innovation are key aspects to regional policy and one of the main goals, in this respect, is capacity building in the field of research and innovation.  This will foster greater competitiveness at a regional level.   

Research and innovation policy and regional policy should be complementary and we should seek to build bridges between the two. In the European Parliament the rapporteurs for both Horizon 2020 and the regional programmes have made provisions for greater synergies between the various programmes involved. 

This entails building bridges in both directions between Horizon 2020 and the structural funds.  In Horizon 2020, we have introduced the concept of "spreading excellence" and "widening participation". The goal here is to foster teaming and twinning initiatives in order to establish and reinforce partnerships between regional research units, countries and leading international counterparts.  

This will enable Europe to construct units of embryonic excellence, such as small research groups and highly innovative start-ups.  Such stairways to excellence will be able to lever support from the Cohesion Funds and this will contribute significantly to the creation of critical mass from existing seeding grounds.  

At the same time, we have also taken considerable care to construct bridges in the opposite direction from the structural funds to Horizon 2020.  In particular, the structural funds have a complementary role to play with regard to what Horizon 2020 seeks to achieve. Upstream from Horizon 2020, the structural funds can be used for capacity building. Downstream from Horizon 2020, the structural funds will help smooth the passage from conception to market.

In this respect, the concept of smart specialisation is key to building these bridges.  Smart specialisation involves developing a vision, identifying competitive advantages and setting the priorities for research and innovation at a specifically regional level.  The universities and higher education institutions have a central role to play in furthering smart specialisation strategies and, in the process, constructing in the bridges between Horizon 2020 and the structural funds in both directions.  

The following report is particular timely and valuable as it gives a series of concrete recommendations about how best to involve universities and institutions of higher education in the process of furthering smart specialisation and constructing the two way bridges of which I have spoken above. 

Please note, your browser is out of date.
For a good browsing experience we recommend using the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera or Internet Explorer.