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 innovation that promote sustainability across society.

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 interested in innovation.

The Association is also active in advocacy related to universities’ contribution to innovation, arguing for favourable framework conditions: EUA is working to shape strategies for smart specialisation in the context of EU structural funds, and promote the participation in EU innovation funding such as the European Innovation Council and in the Digital Europe Programme. The Association also argues for recognising the role of universities in larger EU policies such as the EU industrial and digital strategies and in relation to the Green Deal.

In 2019, EUA published a major study on the “Role of Universities in Regional Innovation Ecosystems”. 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.

  • 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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