Universities driving European innovation

15 April 2019

Nearly 450 participants gathered at the EUA Annual Conference on 11-12 April at the Sorbonne University in Paris to discuss how to drive innovation in and through universities across Europe.

Delegates from 46 countries came together around four plenaries and seven parallel sessions and explored the various aspects of the topic. While innovation has been part of universities’ missions for a long time, it is gaining importance as the recent EUA study on “The Role of Universities in Regional Innovation Ecosystems” shows. The study was presented at the conference and a video highlighting its key findings is also accessible on the EUA YouTube channel.

As open innovation develops, and we move away from linear models of innovation to closer re-iterative processes of co-creation with external partners, universities and university leadership take on a new central role in orchestrating the multi-actor collaboration within their innovation ecosystem. This comes with a number of challenges and needs for reform, be it in learning and teaching with a shift towards problem-based approaches and a quest for more interdisciplinarity, or the professionalisation of support services to manage long-term strategic collaborations with industry or provide support to student start-ups and business creation. Also, the old conceptional divide between fundamental and applied research is blurring with curiosity-driven research focused on grand challenges bringing real disruptive innovation for the benefit of science and society.

New transversal technologies such as artificial intelligence, as discussed in the conference’s Hot Topic Session, are to accelerate these developments with major impact also on higher education, research and institutional management. For universities to unleash their full innovation potential, they need governance and funding frameworks enabling them to be agile and make strategic choices. Policies and programmes, also at European level, are likely to put further emphasis on innovation in the future. As a consequence, universities, as main actors in research and higher education, are to play an important role in this, as emphasised by Jean-Eric Paquet, Director General for Research and Innovation at the European Commission and Sophia Eriksson Waterschoot, Director for Youth, Education and Erasmus+ during their key-note speeches at the conference.

All presentations from the conference are available on the event page.

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