€50 MILLION OF H2020 TOP-UP EARMARKED FOR EUROPEAN INNOVATION COUNCIL

The European Innovation Council (EIC) will receive €50 million of an extra €200 million expected to be awarded to the EU Horizon 2020 research programme. The increase was approved by MEPs in early April, as part of a review of the EU27’s seven-year budget.  The activities of the EIC are expected to start in the autumn with the probable adoption of a riskier, venture capital-style approach to awarding grants.

The beneficiaries of the €200 million top-up include:

  • €50 million for the European Research Council, of which €16.7 million was already earmarked for this year’s budget;
  • €55 million for the ‘spreading excellence and widening participation’ section of Horizon 2020, of which €16.7 million has been earmarked for 2017;
  • €45 million for high performance computing, of which €16.7 million has been earmarked for 2017.

EU Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas called the budget boost “a very valuable deal.” However, the €200 million, recognised as part-compensation for the €2.2 billion that was taken from the programme in 2015 to finance the Commission’s Juncker Plan investment fund, is half the amount the executive asked for.

Earlier this year member states decided to direct additional funding to other areas, in particular a new youth unemployment initiative. A proposed €200 million increase for the Erasmus+ student and academic exchange scheme was also halved to €100 million.

Final approval of the package by member states is expected in the coming weeks.

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REMOVING THE RISK OF A POST-BREXIT BRAIN DRAIN

Members of a UK House of Commons committee have published a report calling on the government to act now to remove uncertainty around the future of EU students and staff at Britain’s universities which could damage their world class reputation in the wake of Brexit.

“The uncertainty over EU students and EU staff needs to be reduced immediately,” the committee says in a report published this month. Guaranteeing that the 2018/19 student cohort will have the same fees and tuition loan access is one way to create short-term stability. To protect university staff, the government should react to the delay in reaching a reciprocal agreement by unilaterally guaranteeing their rights before the end of 2017. Sixteen percent of staff in UK universities come from the EU27. “A delay in confirming their rights will only intensify the current uncertainty for universities, and likely lead to a significant brain drain of talented staff,” the committee says.

The report also recommends that the immigration system after Brexit must be shaped to cater more particularly for the needs of higher education, facilitating rather than obstructing, movement of people from and to UK universities. It calls on the government to remove overseas students from its net migration target of 100 000 per year, to make it clear it wants talent to come to the UK. “The refusal to do so is putting at risk the higher education sector’s share of the international student market,” the MPs say.

The MPs also want the government to commit to Horizon 2020 and future research framework programmes, to ensure ongoing research collaboration with the EU. There should also be a contingency plan for investing the same level of funding received from the EU if access cannot be negotiated. If it is not possible to remain part of the Erasmus+ programme in future, they recommend designing a home-grown replacement.

According to the committee, higher education should be supported by a new regional growth fund to replace the investment from European structural funding. Whatever the exact outcome of Brexit negotiations, it is important the higher education sector is given enough notice of any changes to the migration status of EU students, their fee rate and access to loans. This will allow universities to adjust and plan ahead and ensure that changes to fees or loans do not occur midway through a student’s course.

In the committee’s view, the best model for EU students is to retain a reciprocal open approach with light touch controls, such as visa-free access, which would enable preservation of a system closely resembling freedom of movement.

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SINGAPORE CREATES S$1 BILLION INNOVATION FUND

Singapore is creating a S$1 billion (€657 million) fund to help innovative companies develop their businesses and expand overseas as part of the city state’s drive to boost economic growth. The Makara Innovation Fund – a collaboration between the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) and local private equity fund Makara Capital – will invest S$30 to S$150 million each in 10 to 15 companies with globally competitive technologies over the next eight years.

Interestingly, the measure is part of a strategy presented by the government-led Committee on the Future Economy which recommended that IPOS take a stronger role in driving innovation. The committee is tasked with charting Singapore’s growth path over the coming years.

“IPOS will build up from a regulator into an innovation agency,” said IPOS Chief Executive Officer Daren Tang. “This is a concrete and tangible way to show that Singapore can be a hub for intellectual property commercialization.” Is this a role that could be replicated by some of Europe’s national patent offices?

Singapore filed 10 814 patent applications in 2015, the largest number of any Southeast Asian nation, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization. IPOS plans to double the number of intellectual property experts in Singapore to 1 000 over the next five years and will train 4000 people a year, Tang said.

The agency will also assist companies in using intellectual property as collateral for financing. These initiatives, he said, should add about S$1.5 billion in value to the city-state’s economy over the next five years.

 

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LATEST SME INSTRUMENT RESULTS: €8.9 MILLION TO BE INVESTED IN 184 INNOVATIVE BUSINESSES

184 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from 28 countries will share funding of €8.9 million in the form of feasibility grants worth €50 000 per project in the latest round of the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument (Phase 1). In this first round of 2017, the European Commission received 2 111 proposals by the cut-off date of 15 February. The 184 SMEs selected for funding proposed 178 projects in total (multiple SMEs can be involved in one project).

The largest share of projects funded were in the area of ICT (36). They were closely followed by low-carbon and efficient energy systems (31) and transport (28).

Italian SMEs were particularly successful with 37 beneficiaries receiving funding, followed by firms from Spain (33) and the UK (16). Since the launch of the programme on 1 January 2014, 2 208 SMEs have been selected for funding under Phase 1 of the SME Instrument.

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NOMINATION OF CANDIDATES FOR 2018 MILLENNIUM TECHNOLOGY PRIZE OPEN

Technology Academy Finland (TAF) invites the scientific and innovation community around the world to nominate candidates for the 2018 Millennium Technology Prize. The nomination period is now open and nominations will be accepted until 31 July 2017. The one million euro Prize is one of the largest innovation prizes in the world. It is awarded for groundbreaking technological innovations that help solve the great challenges of humankind in a sustainable manner. The winner will be announced on 22 May 2018.

Nominations for the Prize can be made by universities, research institutes, academies and companies anywhere in the world. The Prize is open to citizens of all nationalities and to all fields of technology excluding military technology. The nominee can be an individual or a research group. A winning innovation must have a proven track record of practical applications and the potential to accelerate further research.

The past winners of the Millennium Technology Prize represent a wide spectrum of innovations ranging from medical technology and biotechnology to sustainable energy and information technology. They are leading scientists and innovators in their fields and at the peak of their careers. The winners include two Nobel Prize Laureates, Shuji Nakamura for blue and white LEDs and Shinya Yamanaka for ethical stem cell research. The 2016 Prize was awarded to Frances Arnold for her innovation of directed evolution, a technology to create proteins that are today widely used in the production of fuels, paper products, pharmaceuticals, textiles and agricultural chemicals.

The nominations are evaluated by a Selection Committee representing leading researchers and innovators from different scientific disciplines and geographic areas. A key criterion in the evaluation is that the innovation has proved to be beneficial to mankind and that it promotes sustainable growth. After a thorough evaluation process, the Committee makes its recommendation on the winner to the Board of Technology Academy Finland, which selects the winner.

Nomination criteria and documents are available at www.millenniumprize.fi/cfn

The nomination documents must be in English and submitted to Technology Academy Finland by July 31, 2017, at  www.millenniumprize.fi/cfn.

The Millennium Technology Prize is supported by leading Finnish corporations as well as governmental and academic organizations. Aalto University is a strategic partner of Technology Academy Finland. The corporate partners are FIM, Neste, Nokia and Outotec.

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EUROPEAN COMMISSION ANNOUNCES SCHEME FOR DIGITAL INTERNSHIPS

In a move to combat high levels of youth unemployment (there are two million job vacancies in Europe) and the mismatch in many countries between the skills of the job seeker and the needs of the labour market, the European Commission has announced that it will fund a pilot scheme of digital internships for students. Nowdays, most jobs need digital skills and 40% of companies – mostly small and medium businesses – need ICT specialists and find it difficult to recruit them.

The new pilot project aims to give students of all disciplines experience in fields that are demanded by companies, focusing mainly on “deep-tech” skills such as cybersecurity, big data, quantum or artificial intelligence, as well as as web design, digital marketing, software development, coding and graphic design.

Companies that are members of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition and businesses active in Horizon 2020, will be targeted in particular, but all companies in the digital field are welcome to offer internships and train students. The first internships could start in the autumn of 2018 with interns being offered a stipend of around €500 per month.

Details on how students and companies will be able to join the project will be provided in the coming weeks. If the pilot project is successful, the Commission may develop it further.

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MARCH FOR SCIENCE – KEEPING UP THE MOMENTUM

Tens of thousands of people marched in cities around the world on 22 April in support of science and against the rise of populist anti-science and alternative facts. True to his promise, EU Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas addressed the marchers in his home city of Lisbon and encouraged them to speak out for science: “Demonstrate, speak loudly, because you deserve to. Don’t forget we make the best science in Europe and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say we are the best.” He re-iterated to the marchers that his door is always open.

In order not to lose momentum, the offical Science March team has published a set of recommended follow-on actions, including

  • Keep in touch with the organisers to see what they’re planning next. Sign up for their newsletters.
  •  Pick an issue and decide you are going to act on it; there are a lot of issues so work out what you care about most and where you could have most impact. Consider a recurring donation to a science charity or education group you like, or get into more scraps with people on Twitter and Facebook you disagree with.
  •  Get to know the policy wonks:  a test of the staying power of the “Science not Silence,” rallying cry is whether the interaction between the science community and politicians increases. Get to know the officials in your country who care about science, or some of the 67 MEPs sitting on the Industry, Research and Energy committee – they help to decide where huge chunks of science funding goes. They also do useful outreach to the scientific establishment with an annual ‘job-swap’ between the two professions.You could also find an EU civil servant working in your field and suggest meeting for a coffee, or send an email to EU Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas.
  •  Keep delivering the goods: some people criticize that science should not be dragged into politics, but something everyone can agree on is that scientists’ biggest impact will continue to be felt in the lab.

 

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