Back to the Future! An Industrial Strategy for Europe

From a university's perspective, perhaps the most surprising aspect of the industrial strategy is that the Commission underplayed all that universities do to support industrial growth.

A week ago the Commission published its renewed Industrial Strategy. Acknowledging the need for a ‘holistic and forward-looking vision for Europe’s industry’, the Commission shows that industrial renewal has been central to a revival in growth and jobs in the EU, with 1.5m new jobs being created since 2013.

Creating sustainable jobs in industry requires research and innovation: ‘The future of industry will be digital’. Horizon 2020 and the European Structural Investment Funds are singled out for helping finance digital infrastructure. The European Commission affirms its desire to help scale-up new ideas to market, underlining the role of the European Institute of Technology in supporting innovation ecosystems. It singles out the European Innovation Council for its mission to support ‘radical’, market-creating innovation.

Finally, the Commission is pointing to the priority areas of Horizon 2020, with €2.2bn set aside for clean energy innovation. All this is welcome and good. But in preparing the EU for the future, we must also focus on what we already do well, and should strengthen in the future, including:

  1. The opportunities of the Single Market will be optimised if we equip our workforce with the tools to make use of Europe’s cultural and linguistic diversity. Through Erasmus+, the EU has provided what must be the World’s most successful transnational mobility scheme. But student numbers have been rising fast, as universities now educate 40% of European 20-year-olds. How much could we achieve if universities and the Commission took on the challenge of generating a step-change in mobility, doubling Erasmus+ numbers?
  2. Research is fundamental to industrial growth. Research in universities – often conducted by PhD students sponsored by industry – is essential to European industries, from chemical to pharmaceutical, from aerospace to automotive. Frontier-led research, much of it sponsored by Marie-Curie Skłodowska Actions and the European Research Council, is quintessential for European industry to innovate and grow. In FP7, every €1 generated €11 in value. For any industrial strategy to succeed, the EU must enhance investment in research and innovation, not reduce it as the Council proposed for 2018.
  3. The Commission points out that we must support those who lose out from change – through lifelong learning, equal opportunities and fair access to education. This is an important challenge to policy makers as it is for educational institutions. But equally important is to enhance our knowledge – and a wider public understanding – of what is going on. We need to equip our citizens and policy-makers with an understanding of change – and what to do about it. For this we need to enhance research on social and cultural transformation and its impact: no industrial strategy of the future can do without the social sciences and the humanities!
  4. It is good to see a link to regional policy, but the EU’s value is not restricted to the Smart Specialisation Strategy. For instance, at the University of Tartu, EU funding has supported university-led initiatives for innovation that are leading to the creation of new start-ups. Universities are inherently international, but they are also engines of human development and regional growth: supporting excellent universities across the continent is a question not just of social justice, but also of maximising the human capital of Europe.

From a university's perspective, perhaps the most surprising aspect of the industrial strategy is that the Commission underplayed all that universities do to support industrial growth. The EU’s ambition to support industrial growth is to be welcomed, but this needs to build on the basics. So let us be ambitious about the European Innovation Council, and let us ensure the European Institute of Technology is as effective and collaborative as possible. But above all let us develop our ambition for student mobility, innovative ideas and excellent science across all disciplines, throughout Europe.  We know it works.

Published Sep. 25, 2017 11:54 AM - Last modified Dec. 14, 2017 3:45 PM