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Research, education and innovation are three central and strongly interdependent drivers of the knowledge-based society. Together they are referred to as the “knowledge triangle”. To realise ERA, research needs to develop strong links with education and innovation.

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) can be seen as a flagship project for the links between education, research and innovation, as the three activities are integrated in its design. But many other examples illustrate how the ERA project is closely linked to innovation and education.

A borderless ERA is for Europe to be an innovation leader

The rise of "open innovation" reflects the reality that companies can less and less afford to run a closed R&D shop. Companies have to tap into the knowledge developed by universities and public research centres. They also often need to cooperate with other companies, including their competitors. In order to find the best knowledge and the best partners, companies need to look across national borders.

The initiatives taken to develop the ERA aim to facilitate these exchanges across borders. A central objective of ERA is to establish the “fifth freedom”: the freedom of movement of knowledge.

Some initiatives are developing a common understanding between various actors of research and innovation (large firms, SMEs, universities, public research centres, etc.) to help them to cooperate across the EU. For example the initiative on knowledge transfer and intellectual property, or the European Technology Platforms which bring actors from all over Europe together in specific technology areas.

Transnational research cooperation is also supported by funding programmes, notably the Framework Programmes of the EU. They support a large number of transnational research projects, but also large-scale initiatives which pool resources across Europe and beyond around common goals. For instance, the Joint Technology Initiatives combine private and public funding and bring together a critical mass of researchers from companies and universities, to address complex technological challenges like designing aircraft with low CO² emissions or developing innovative medicines. With SMEs as its main target and complementary with the Framework Programme, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) supports innovation activities (including eco-innovation), provides better access to finance and delivers business support services in the regions.

The European Research Area needs a European Higher Education Area – and vice versa

The central role of universities to provide human resources for research and innovation is obvious. Reciprocally, universities need close connections with cutting-edge research in order to provide high quality education. The close interaction between research and training activities in universities is what gives them their unique and crucial role in the knowledge society.

This is why it is so important for Europe to have modern, excellent universities. In most countries, there is still a need to improve management and organisation of universities and to give them more autonomy and accountability. This will allow universities to develop their own strategies, to position themselves at European and international levels and to better link their activities with the needs of society and industry. In some cases, some concentration and specialisation will be necessary to create European centres of excellence competitive on the global scale. The mobility of graduate students and researchers is of course the necessary complement of such evolution.