European Innovation Ecosystems

Universities play a central role in the development of Europe’s innovation ecosystems. They are driving innovation through their research activities, playing a crucial role in developing, attracting and retaining human talent, promoting business, and facilitating uptake of new technologies through cooperation with business as well as through start-ups and spin-outs. Their direct and indirect contributions go far beyond marketable products, including innovations that promote sustainability across society. Universities are also seen as ideally suited to “connect the dots” in innovation ecosystems because they are impartial, and they are driven by curiosity and long-term perspectives, rather than by commercial interests and short-term goals.

EUA is working closely with members across Europe to reinforce these roles. The Association is doing this in close consultation with its Innovation Ecosystems Expert Group through activities involving university leaders, regional and national policy makers and other stakeholders involved in innovation.

These activities draw from the evidence base developed by EUA in 2021 through its first ever survey on universities and innovation. With data from 166 institutions in 28 countries, the survey provides a Europe-wide picture of innovation at universities in terms of their institutional capacity to engage in innovation activities, and of their specific contributions to the green and digital transitions. The resulting recommendations  to policy makers, funders, and universities will drive EUA’s agenda to enhance the contribution of universities to European innovation ecosystems in future years.

This work was preceded by a major study on the “Role of Universities in Regional Innovation Ecosystems” published in 2019. Its main recommendations for actions to improve the effectiveness of European regional research and innovation initiatives are formulated in the EUA policy position on smart specialisation strategies and in the EUA statement on the future of innovation ecosystems.

The results of this work feed into the Association’s advocacy towards more favourable framework conditions for university innovation. EUA is working to reduce regulatory burden for innovation, promote the participation of universities in EU innovation funding schemes, such as the European Innovation Council and the Digital Europe Programme, and support universities in shaping innovation strategies of their ecosystems. The Association also advocates for the recognition of the role of university innovation in related EU policies, such as the EU industrial and digital strategies and the European Green Deal.

  • Smart Specialisation

    Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) have been a useful tool in developing innovation ecosystems in many regions in Europe. Smart specialisation is an innovative approach that aims to increase economic growth in Europe, by helping regions to identify and develop their own competitive advantages. Through its bottom-up approach, smart specialisation brings together universities, businesses, public authorities and civil society around various priorities aimed at regional development.

    Within the EU Cohesion Policy, smart specialisation is an enabling condition for regions to receive funding from the European Structural and Investment Funds. The purpose of this prerequisite is to allocate funds in more efficient way and to reinforce synergies between different EU, national and regional policies and funds.

    EUA is actively involved in promoting the role of universities in the design, implementation and evaluation of RIS3 strategies. The Association gives also crucial importance to the need to achieve greater synergy between the future Horizon Europe programme and the European Structural and Investment Funds to support research and innovation activities. In order to support the active involvement of the university sector in the creation of European innovation ecosystems, EUA set up an Expert Group on Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation.

  • University-business cooperation

    Facilitating access to knowledge by sharing research results and improving knowledge transfer between research institutions and industry is a key for creation of innovation ecosystems. It was also identified as one of the objectives of the European Research Area.

    One of EUA’s main priorities is to find ways to strengthen university cooperation with the business sector. The need to establish a more “trust-based partnership” between universities and businesses is key to turning more research results into goods and services for the benefit of our society.

    EUA has developed a substantial amount of work in university-business partnerships, specifically through the EUIMA-Collaborative Research project and the Responsible Partnering Initiative. 


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    The EUA Innovation Agenda 2026

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    EUA response to the European Commission’s New European Innovation Agenda

    The European University Association welcomes the European Commission’s Communication on A New European Innovation Agenda, notably as an overarching innovation agenda is needed to tackle specific bottlenecks which stunt Europe’s innovation performance, and to achieve consistency and effective implementation of the various tools available for this purpose.

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