How can the EU better develop its research, education and innovation ‘knowledge triangle’?

Locating research centres next to universities can help ensure that investment in research is translated into business opportunities, reports Martin Banks.
Abraham Liu, Huawei's chief representative to the EU institutions

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

28 Dec 2020

Europe sets global tech standards, but more could be done to unleash the potential of the ICT sector in delivering tech innovation. This was one of the main messages to emerge from a webinar on the digital revolution.

Among those taking part was Huawei, whose continuing efforts to invest in research have again been reflected in the latest edition of the EU industrial R&D investment scoreboard, with the Chinese tech giant ranked 5th. The 60-minute debate (held on 15 December) looked at how governments can implement wide ranging education and research policies so as to develop strong innovation eco-systems.

It also focused on the so-called “knowledge triangle” - the interaction between research, education and innovation.

Abraham Liu, Huawei’s chief representative to the EU institutions, called for greater investment in the research, education and innovation sectors. He also explained how his company deals with an ongoing problem, where investment into research does not always automatically translate into business opportunities. He told his online audience, “Huawei builds its research centres next to the best talent.

This directly impacts how industry bridges academic research into the commercial and business dimensions. It shortens the period of implementation from ideas emerging to incorporating them into products. This is not just about in-house research but also about Huawei’s collaboration with universities.”

“International collaboration is essential, but it should not be taken for granted” Abraham Liu, Huawei’s chief representative to the EU institutions

He added, “We focus a great deal on the ICT infrastructure and research. We face some fundamental challenges, but innovation is the key to our continued success. We have 33 facilities in 12 European countries, and we support these in fundamental research.” Generally, he believes there is a need for greater investment in fundamental research and “Europe can be a catalyst for global cooperation”.

He explained, “International collaboration is essential based on our experience, but it should not be taken for granted. There are clear indications that political forces want to decouple the world’s research.” Huawei, he said, invests 12-15 percent of its revenue in research and also seeks to promote gender equality, in part with the aim of retaining female talent within the tech industry.

The ICT industry has, he believes, been very successful in the past, essentially thanks to international collaboration, but he also warns that “political interference is attempting to decouple the ICT industry, which threatens progress and prosperity.”

He continued, “In this context, Europe sets global tech standards. Whoever can meet these standards can have fair market access. So, Europe has a crucial role to play.” He says his company is “proud of having made key contributions to network operability in recent decades,” adding, “Today, this enables us all to continue to enjoy network capacities while battling the pandemic.”

The virtual event, called “How the knowledge triangle is spurring on our digital revolution” and organised by The Brussels Times with the support of Huawei, heard that technology is transforming the operation of all industries. Another contributor was Professor Soulla Louca, Director at the Institute for the Future (IFF), based at the University of Nicosia.

She said, “The IFF was founded with the aim of further advancing knowledge in this specific area and to prepare our students for a future with new technologies. We complement our research with work funded by the EU. One of our aims is to help benefit the wider blockchain ecosystem and blockchain technologies.”

Louca added, “We should look at innovation not just from the perspective of making money. Instead, it should be about going to the next step, for example, going from the telephone to the internet. We should innovate to make a difference and not just to make money. That is not to say we are not worried about the business model, but money will follow later.”

She also said, “The pandemic has made things worse for SMEs, which are now worried just about survival and not innovation. Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, a senior analyst at the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), also took part, and agreed that the necessary educational investment into basic research and skills are required if society is to deliver the most innovative products and solutions into the marketplace.

“We should innovate to make a difference and not just to make money” Soulla Louca, Director at the Institute for the Future

He added, “Some see universities just as a ‘pipeline’ for industry, but increasingly we are seeing more higher educational institutions putting innovation at the heart of what they do.”

Willem Jonker, CEO at EIT Digital, of which Huawei is a member, said, “The issues we are debating today are close to my heart. For me, the knowledge triangle means building an ecosystem where all the different sectors come together.

For example, it means businesses contributing to the educational curricula, something that gives students a chance to be better prepared for life and to be successful. We at EIT Digital focus on the digital challenge of Europe and on creating digital champions, something which should be a top priority.”

Jonker added, “Europe, in some sectors, is good at research but not so good at making money from that research. We should remember there is also a cultural difference on this between Europe and the US.”

In closing, he told the audience, “The question is: what do we do about it? In Europe, we need to roll up our sleeves and get things done and invest in digital, research and innovation.”

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