European Institute of Innovation and Technology launch PHD programme

The climate arm of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology is launching a PhD programme to evaluate the effectiveness of its workings, as part of efforts to measure the impact of the EIT.

Four PhD studentships will be available to examine how the EIT’s knowledge and innovation communities, or KICs, operate. This will include one project to assess each of Climate-KIC’s three pillars of education, entrepreneurship and innovation, according to Mary Ritter, the chief executive officer of Climate-KIC. “After all, we’re an experiment ourselves, so we need evaluating,” Ritter told Research Europe during an EIT conference in Dublin, on 29 and 30 April.

The announcement is part of a growing effort by the EIT to justify a significantly increased budget from 2014-20, despite reduced public spending. The EIT received €300 million for its pilot phase under Framework 7, but the Commission has proposed to increase this to nearly €3.2 billion under Horizon 2020.

“Outcome results are kind of an obsession in the EIT,” said José Manuel Leceta, the institute’s director. At present, each of the three KICs—on energy, climate and ICT—produces a scoreboard of performance indicators, including subject-specific targets as well as core indicators such as the number of students, new start-ups and products. These are used by the EIT board to award funding, which is allocated each year on a competitive basis.

Since 2010, the three KICs have generated €1.6bn of investment from external sources, and 318 graduates and 108 start-ups have emerged from the programmes, the conference heard. “The figures are reassuring, and we should take this as an encouragement,” Leceta told conference participants. “But it’s not just about outputs, it’s also about long-term impact. This is still a work in progress.”

“Assessing impact is more complex,” said Ritter, particularly in areas such as societal impact and mitigation of climate change where qualitative assessment is needed. “Key performance indicators can only act as a proxy.”

“Far too often, KPIs end up a number game,” said Willem Jonker, the CEO of the ICT Labs KIC.

Another problem is the length of time it takes to achieve measureable results. “The EIT is the last mile of the innovation lifecycle,” said Jari Ahola, the head of service and finance at the EIT. “It’s not for funding basic research, it’s for catalysing innovation—which is an investment.” Many of the start-ups are still at the incubation stage in facilities funded by the KICs.

Climate-KIC’s doctoral assessments could prove useful for consortia preparing communities to be funded under Horizon 2020. The Commission is expected to open bids for KICs on healthy living, raw materials, and food for the future in 2014, with a possible fourth KIC on added-value manufacturing. At least two other KICs, on urban mobility and smart secure societies, are planned for 2018

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