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EU mulls plan to create rival to MIT

BRUSSELS, Belgium --Austria will use its presidency of the EU to promote proposals to create a European rival to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a bid to stop the continent's brightest minds moving across the Atlantic, the country's ambassador to the EU said Friday.

The plan would likely be discussed by EU leaders at a March economic summit in Brussels, Ambassador Gregor Woschnagg said.

The proposal was "something that could prevent a brain drain of researchers and scientists to the United States," he told a think tank audience.

European leaders are increasingly concerned that Europe's academic and research standards continue to lag far behind the United States, while emerging powers such as India and China are making fast improvements.

The annual ranking of the world's universities by London's Times Educational Supplement showed U.S. institutions holding seven of the top 10 places, with Harvard and MIT heading the list.

European believe talent is too thinly spread around the 25-nation EU, and cooperation between European countries is needed to create specialized centers where top students, teachers and researchers could concentrate.

Austria took over the EU's rotating presidency from Britain on Jan. 1, and Woschnagg said it would push forward ideas on improve university standards. That could include the creation of a European MIT, Woschnagg told the Center for European Policy Studies.

The European Commission is drafting proposals for the creation of a European Institute Technology that will be presented to national governments next month.

"The idea is to have something on the table for the spring summit," said Frederic Vincent, education spokesman for the EU head office.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has proposed such an institution be created in Paris with a $360 million starting budget.

However Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a German member of the European Parliament's research committee, said the EU should not just seek to create its own version of the elite school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"Everybody knows that it cannot be a copy of the MIT because the MIT needed 150 years in order to become successful, and we don't have that time," the Liberal lawmaker said in a telephone interview.

"There is a big, big reluctance among the European universities to accept a new competitor, Chatzimarkakis said. "The idea of creating a super, elitist university is not feasible."

Instead, he said an EIT should be set up as a "network of networks" connecting universities and industry to ensure that research is turned quickly into workable business ideas. "We don't have a lack of ideas," he said. "We have a difficulty in implementing ideas ... this is our problem in Europe."

A report Thursday by the European Commission bemoaned that current trends showed no sign that Europe was closing the "innovation gap" with the United States, a situation it blamed for holding back economic growth.

"We have to do more for innovation," insisted EU Enterprise Commissioner Guenter Verheugen. "There is clear evidence that more innovative sectors tend to have higher productivity growth."

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