new approach being promoted by the European Commission as part of the
'Support for Research Infrastructures' activity of the GROWTH programme,
Virtual Institutes will make use of the latest information and communications
technologies (ICTs) to ensure effective transnational networking and the
rapid transfer and implementation of RTD results into industrial applications.
new and existing networking technologies, Virtual Institutes will bring
together, at the European level, the main players in a particular field
of research, providing a vehicle for effective real-time communication
between the research community and industry. Participants in the Institutes
will provide complementary expertise, ranging from universities and specialised
research centres to industrial consortia and trade organisations. Newly
developed services will stimulate research and provide benefits at all
levels of industry, from major multinationals to local SMEs.
to build the European Research Area (ERA)
is now clearly a central component of the new knowledge-based economy
and is, more than ever before, one of the basic driving forces behind
economic and social progress. Europe is, however, still suffering
from structural weaknesses where research is concerned. The fragmentation
of the European research effort has been identified as a compounding
factor in Europe's under-performance in the scientific arena. The
Commission's Communication on the implementation of the European Research
adopted in January 2000, clearly states that the "decompartmentalisation
and better integration of Europe's scientific and technological area
is an indispensable condition for invigorating research in Europe".
Among other things, it calls for more diversified action in support
of research infrastructures of European interest.
networking - the way forward
Virtual Institute concept is a concrete example of how data networks
and the development of interconnected advanced computational resources
could potentially impact on Europe's research capacity:
By allowing more powerful processing of complex data;
By improving access to scarce resources and tools for researchers
and scientists across all disciplines, irrespective of geographical
location, on a 24-hour basis;
By helping research communities to improve the structure and integration
of the global scientific community;
By bringing new management and communication tools to the scientific
community (including electronic publishing, electronic archives,
digital libraries and digital "collaboratories").
progress has been made in recent years in the development of computer
networking facilities in Europe. Although still significantly less
advanced than in the USA, the development of TEN-155 (Trans-European
Network Interconnect at 155Mbit/s) and the liberalisation of
the European telecommunications market have considerably expanded
the opportunities available to the academic and research communities.
Further developments in this sector are now being examined, in particular
the concept of research grids. Skills upgrading will, however, be
an important element in ensuring the spread of network use to all
scientific disciplines in Europe. There is a clear need to develop
a new profile of a researcher able to work using the new collaborative
tools of the information age.
Virtual Institute in Practice
September 2000, the European Commission organised a workshop
on Virtual Institutes intended to provide a more in-depth introduction
to the concept and to give information on the modalities of Commission
funding. In addition to the presentations made by Commission staff,
lectures were given by six invited experts covering a wide range
of topics of interest for the development of the Virtual Institute
Peter Roberts of the International Flame Research Foundation (IFRF)
presented the experiences of the IFRF over the past 50 years and
its development of a highly effective data network or 'Virtual Institute'
in the field of combustion research. The network was developed as
a result of the great industrial demand for R&D and demonstration
in combustion and related phenomena, and because of the recognition
that the complexity of the field meant that no single discipline
could handle the work required. "We believe in the concept
of the Virtual Institute," said Roberts, "we've been running
one for many years now and can clearly see the benefits." The
IFRF network operates on several levels: face-to-face meetings,
telephone, fax and e-mail communications and an extensive range
of on-line services. It also facilitates collaboration between geographically
distant entities on specific research projects by providing access
to advanced ICT collaborative tools.
approval for EVIMAR
first Virtual Institute proposal to have been approved by the Commission
is that of the
Virtual Maritime Institute, EVIMAR. Mr Erik Styks Petersen of the
Danish Maritime Institute recognises the essential role of the Commission
funding received in providing the impetus for the creation of EVIMAR.
"The need for improved networking has been felt for some time,
but without the Commission funding it would have been much more
difficult for us to move forward to the next stage" said Petersen.
EVIMAR is still in the development stages but the aim is to establish
a solid, market-oriented structure providing a range of information
and networking facilities and services aimed at stimulating technology
transfer in the maritime sector.
Virtual Institute should aim to serve as a transnational information
centre for research in a particular field, establishing the state
of the art in that area and identifying future research needs. The
idea, however, is not merely to provide a series of electronic information
services. The information provided is intended to be the point of
departure for the stimulation of interaction between members of
the network and the establishment of commercial partnerships. Use
of advanced technology tools, such as multimedia conferencing and
virtual blackboards, will allow the networks to initiate and support
collaborative business projects across physical distances (i.e.
transnational). In addition, tailored and specialised services provided
through the network could be made available on a pay-as-you-use
basis, thus providing a major source of long-term financing for
the Virtual Institute as a whole. Such services could include: tailored
market research services, access to specific expertise, technology/research
brokerage, access to advanced facilities, partner search facilities.
a lasting framework for co-operation
long-term objective of the Virtual Institute initiative is to create
a structured network of services and information aimed at stimulating
the technology transfer process over a wide geographic area. Initial
funding for the set-up of Virtual Institutes will be provided through
calls for Expressions of Interest (EOIs).
So far, some 17 topics have been published covering a wide range
of research disciplines. Requirements for EU funding include a strong
management structure and business plan, a distinct legal structure
and the expectation that the Institute should be self-financing
beyond the period of EU funding. The aim is to demonstrate the long-term
viability of the Virtual Institute and thus gradually move from
best practice pioneered by leading-edge users towards common practice
for all members of the research community.
more information : see the Cordis web site at http://cordis.europa.eu/growth/src/needs.htm
or the workshop site at http://cordis.europa.eu/growth/src/ev-work.htm)
A call for proposals was published on October 13, 2000. Closing
date is March 15, 2001. For detailed information on the topics covered,
budget and conditions of participation, see http://cordis.europa.eu/growth/calls/200003.htm
EU funded research
on virtual institutes is carried out as part of the Support
for research infrastructures activity.
- has developed a highly effective data network in the field of
- is the first Virtual Institute proposal approved by the Commission