High-quality human capital formation. Core elements for Flanders, he said, were universities, polytechnics, and professional training schools, including lifelong learning programs. These emphasized high quality, reduced failure and dropout rates, improving attractiveness to students from other regions, and use of exchange programs as benchmark learning tools.
Open research practices. “IMEC is the clearest example of this,” he said. “Texas Instruments brings eight people here, and assumes that they learn as much as they ‘leak’. This openness attracts people.” It also strengthens the research presence, stimulates joint public-private initiatives, benefits from “foreign” knowledge and collaboration, and strengthens the regional research infrastructure.
Stronger innovation performance. He emphasized the importance of supporting local science spin-offs and entrepreneurs, for which Flanders has created specific policies. Flanders also strengthened innovation by linking public research institutions, teachers, and local SMEs; embedding large multinational corporations in the public research infrastructure; and sponsoring public information projects to explain innovation.
Regional capacity to absorb innovation. He emphasized Flanders’ support for regional “beta users,” or early adopters, in helping grow the seeds of innovation. Capacity absorption is also hastened by procurement policies, a regional presence abroad (e.g., at fairs), a focus on regional diffusion of knowledge, and cooperation with other “foreign” regions.
Professor Soete concluded that regional innovation support policies, such as those of Flanders, will become ever more critical for Europe, especially to catalyze social cohesion among diverse countries. He called for more EU-sponsored fundamental and strategic research for all 25 member countries and a larger role for universities and research institutes in generating and applying technology. Through interaction and collaboration, he said, these “hotspots” will learn from each other and raise underutilized growth potential across national borders. This movement was likely to spread around the world, he said, as the notion of national competitiveness becomes outdated and gives way to “a world-wide explosion of technological hotspots.”