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EU Commission eyes MIT-style research powerhouse

'Perverse', say academics

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The European Union will get its own research hub, in an attempt to compete with the US' MIT and emerging academic powerhouses in China and India. Proposals are due to be presented today for a centrally funded and administrated body, with up to €1bn budget.

Today's announcement from the commission will address whether the European Institute of Technology (EIT) should be a physical place, or a collaboration between existing universities. Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said EIT will: "Act as a pole of attraction for the very best minds, ideas and companies from around the world."

Whatever form it takes, the new institute will be aimed at commercialisation of research, which MIT has turned into a fine art.

Some top universities have hit out at the plans however. The League of European Research Universities, including Cambridge - which already has ties to MIT - described the whole idea as “perverse”. They say the commision's November consultation report was “narrow and unimaginative” and that it “fails to address” the challenges facing the academic community in Europe.

Their point is that a central university will divert funding from already world-class institutions, while the network model for EIT will lack the attribute that makes MIT so effective - the ability to respond as a complete institution to research advances.

Predictably, there is already bitching over who will get the gig if a new university is to be founded – though today's announcement from the commission will dodge that question.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has proposed a building, unsurprisingly, near Paris. Siting the institute in Strasbourg has also been mooted by MEPs, with the EU Parliament moving to Brussels, an idea the French have fought themselves. ®

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