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The Swiss Finance Institute – a model for the EIT?

By Redazione

Integrating the three pillars of the knowledge triangle – research, education and innovation – is often cited as key in a knowledge-based society; industry plays an important part in this
process. The Swiss Finance Institute (SFI) has managed to implement close cooperation between universities and the financial industry in the area of finance research. The institute represents
one of a number of concepts that the European Union might draw on for inspiration in planning the European Institute of Technology (EIT), a briefing at the Mission of Switzerland to the EU on 9
October 2007 suggested.

Created in 2005 by the Swiss Federal Government, the world renowned Swiss banking sector, leading Swiss universities and a number of pre-existing foundations, the SFI is a private foundation.
It aims at advancing research activities in finance. All partners contribute CHF18 million (?10.8 million) per year to the institute’s budget:

Every year, the federal government will put in CHF3 to 4 million; private foundations will provide CHF2 million and the universities will add CHF6 million through co-financing research projects
and structural measures. The banks fill any funding gaps, having established a joint fund containing that they will use to pay out up to CHF7 million a year over the next 15 years. Most of the
funds go into financing the salaries of professors, research projects, a special PhD programme and supporting executive education in the banking and finance industry.

‘The concept is to bring them together, but on a basis that already exists, ‘says Jean-Pierre Danthine, SFI’s managing director. ‘The idea is that, by identifying common goals and bringing in
new money from the private sector and also new commitment from the public sector – whether from the government or the universities – we are able to achieve our common objectives.’

One of the objectives is to improve the Swiss university system, Mr Danthine explains. By increasing commitment from the universities and from the public sector, and by bringing in money from
the private sector, a ‘sort of leverage effect’ has been obtained to the benefit of both the university system and the industry.

The SFI is governed by a foundation board, made up of representatives from all sectors. All matters scientific, however, remain in the hands of the scientific council, which is composed of
banking and finance professors of international renown.

Despite its apparent success, the SFI model has its limitations and has, as of yet, only been applied to the finance research sector. Hence, it might not be fully applicable to the European
Institute of Technology. The SFI, however, faces some of the same challenges that the EIT will come up against, such as geographical dispersion of a decentralised structure, Mr Danthine points
out. ‘What we have also managed to develop is the interest of the industry in doctoral studies as a good way of promoting research,’ he adds. ‘We have managed that in finance, but I am sure
that there are other domains where the industry would quickly see that investment in young people and research is something that will be beneficial to both academia and the industry.’

While Matteo Bonifacio, policy developer at the European Commission in the Directorate General Education and Culture, appreciates the SFI’s achievement of attracting funding from the private
sector, he sees the Swiss concept as one of many that could form the base for the EIT and that will have to be looked into. ‘We are trying to learn best practices,’ Mr Bonifacio says. As for
the SFI’s model, he thinks that it is strongly culturally embedded and it is difficult to say whether it would work in as heterogeneous an environment as the EU.

‘The EIT will have to operate at European level, while the Swiss Finance Institute can concentrate on the Swiss national level,’ Mr Bonifacio emphasises. ‘Secondly, the EIT will focus on
challenges like climate changes, so it is not so focused on one particular area. But these are all initiatives that can learn from each other.

‘The most interesting aspect of the EIT is that it is not limited to one discipline. The EIT will not do mathematics, but we will involve mathematicians in addressing some challenge,’ Mr
Bonifacio goes on to explain. ‘We will not focus on traditional fields of science but try to mix them and try to make them cross the boundaries and do something new. The final goal is to
address a challenge with social and economic impact, so as to advance the European capacity to compete on the global scene.’

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