Namur, January 16, 2022
When the deputy editor of the daily newspaper L’Echo, Serge Quoidbach, invited me, along with the three other participants at the roundtable discussion on the future of Wallonia, to propose a specific project, which was clear and straightforward and which unified all the Region’s stakeholders, I accepted immediately . The specification from Serge Quoidbach, took its inspiration from the analysis of the economist Mariana Mazzucato, who had alluded to the simple, easily understood idea contained in the speech given by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy at Rice University in Houston on 12 September 1962 . In its tagline we choose to go to the Moon in this decade, the President of the United States encapsulated the determination of the forces that would be mobilised, across all sectors of society. For Mariana Mazzucato, author of Mission Economy, A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism, and The Entrepreneurial State , this goal, which was achieved in 1969 by the Apollo 11 Mission, stemmed from a new form of collaboration between the public authorities and the business community, resulting in benefits for the whole of society.
1. Once a wildcard, now a desirable future
The Wallonia Institute of Technology project, which is part of the 2068 Wallonia Odyssey vision, an operational foresight initiative launched by the Wallonia Union of Companies (UWE), is similar to the goal expressed by President Kennedy. It fully meets the requirement specified by L’Echo: it was conceived during a dialogue between researchers, public authorities, and representatives of the business world. Without divulging any secrets – this entire process has been managed transparently and in a spirit of partnership on the initiative of the managing director of the UWE, Olivier de Wasseige –, the Wallonia Institute of Technology was introduced as a wildcard  in October 2019, during a seminar on the impacts of future technological waves in the digital world and artificial intelligence on society and the opportunities and necessities induced for the business community. This seminar, which was held in two sessions, in Crealys (Namur) and then in Wavre, and driven by Pascal Poty (Digital Wallonia) and Antonio Galvanin (Proximus), identified 2030 as the deadline for regaining control of a foresight trajectory deemed hitherto chaotic. The working group felt that the creation of this Wallonia Institute of Technology was the moment when the stakeholders unexpectedly managed to reconfigure the political, territorial, and technological society of Wallonia and unite their efforts around an innovative concept. A most satisfying occasion, therefore.
The idea has flourished during the 2068 Wallonia Odyssey process. Once an unthinkable event, the Wallonia Institute of Technology has become a desirable future and is seen as a response to the long-term challenges in the goals of the vision developed and approved by the dozens of people taking part in the exercise. Discussions were held on creating a Wallonia Institute of Technology (WIT) as a genuine tool for structuring research and development and innovation, launched and funded jointly by the Government of Wallonia in partnership with businesses. The participants felt that, in the redeployment plan for Wallonia, the WIT was probably the most dynamic resource.
The vision specifies this tool: based on universities which have themselves been modernised, drawing inspiration from the German Fraunhofer models, the Carnot Institutes in France, and the Flemish VIB (Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie) and IMEC (Interuniversity MicroElectronics Centre) initiatives, this fundamental initiative has ended the fragmented nature of research in Wallonia.
By rationalising the numerous research centres, Wallonia has now reached a critical European size in terms of R&D.
In addition, this action represents an integration template for all the ecosystems in Wallonia dating back to the start of the 21st century, which are too individualistic, too dispersed and too local.
Based on technological convergence, and geared towards a more environmentally friendly future, the mission of the WIT is to focus on concrete solutions for the benefit of society, through businesses, based on the thematic areas supported by the competitiveness clusters, including plans for energy transition, energy storage, carbon capture at source, and sustainable and carbon-neutral cities.
These resources have encouraged the capitalisation of human intelligence, which has given meaning and energy to the younger generations through their mastery of technology and their job-creating competitiveness .
This action supported by the UWE is still in progress and is being adapted and adjusted based on the work being undertaken to monitor ongoing changes. Consideration of the strategy also raises the question of whether the desirable is possible. There are two parts to this question: firstly, are we capable of bringing the research organisations together to form critical European masses, and of overcoming the causes, both historical and institutional, of fragmented research? Secondly, do we have the budgetary resources to mobilise the research and development community, as Flanders has been able to do?
These questions are not new. They were put to the Regional Foresight College of Wallonia which, during its Wallonia 2030 and Bifurcations 2019 and 2024 exercises, discussed the long-term challenges associated with research and development. These mainly involved the necessary critical mass at the European level to address the fragmented nature of the research centres and their obvious competition, particularly in the context of calls for projects linked to European Structural Funds . In parallel, the work undertaken by The Destree Institute in 2016 and 2017 on behalf of the Liège-Luxembourg Academic Pole revealed the limited public investment in R&D in Wallonia and, at the same time, the outperformance of one province – Walloon Brabant – and of one particular sector – life sciences, boosted by the company GSK. In 2017, apart from the new province, all the provinces of Wallonia had a total R&D expenditure per inhabitant lower than the European average (628 euro/inhabitant), the average of Wallonia (743.30 euro/inhabitant) and the Belgian average (1,045.50 euro/inhabitant). The total R&D expenditure in Walloon Brabant that year (the most recent year available in the Eurostat data) was 3,513.60 euro per inhabitant.
It is worth mentioning that, in Wallonia, 77% of R&D is carried out by businesses, 21% by universities, and less than 1% by the public authorities (figures for 2017). In addition, as also highlighted in the report of the Scientific Policy Council in 2020, the public authorities, as performers of R&D, play a very marginal role in the Wallonia Region. This is explained by the fact that the Wallonia Region has few public research centres .
This data, which highlights the fragility of the R&D landscape in Wallonia, justified the need to develop a process for closer integration of the research centres, in addition to the networking effort implemented by Wal-Tech for the approved research centres . Nevertheless, on the one hand, this approach seems rather modest in the light of the challenges we are facing and, on the other, contact with the field shows that the stakeholders’ intentions appear to be a long way from integration, with each organisation jealously guarding its own, generally rather meagre, patch. The real question is whether anyone thinks that the Region is able to provide 600 or 700 million euro annually to create a IMEC  in Wallonia.
2. The exponential rate of technological development requires a commonality of interest and of resources
As an astute observer of technological trends, the analyst and multi-entrepreneur Azeem Azhar rejected the notion that technology is a neutral force, separate from humanity, that will develop outside society. It is, however, closely linked to the way in which we approach it, even if it remains fundamentally difficult, in an era of exponential technological development, to say how new innovations will transform our society. Such innovations interact constantly in our relationships with the economy, work, politics and our living environments. As the exponential era accelerates, observes Azhar, so general-purpose technologies disrupt our rules, norms, values and expectations and affect all our institutions. For this reason, he concludes, we need new forms of political and economic organisation. He is thinking, naturally, of institutions that are sufficiently resilient, in other words, robust enough to handle constant change and flexible enough to adapt quickly. But, above all, we need to construct institutions that allow disparate groups of people to work together, cooperate and exchange ideas, which Azhar refers to as commonality . More than simple cooperation or partnership, this commonality seems to be a genuine sharing of interests, resources and available assets to address challenges.
This idea of commonality is what led us, several years ago, to argue in favour of a University of Wallonia established across five or six geographical centres: the University of Wallonia in Mons, the University of Wallonia in Charleroi, the University of Wallonia in Liège, the University of Wallonia in Louvain-la-Neuve, the University of Wallonia in Namur, and the University of Wallonia in Brussels – if the Free University of Brussels (ULB) and the University Saint-Louis want to come on board . The National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS) would be included in this list, particularly as we believe it to be exemplary in certain respects. The rights and powers of the University of Wallonia would be exercised by the Board of its Governors and Directors: the President of the University, the rectors of each of the constituent universities throughout their term, the representatives of the university community (students, scientific staff, teaching faculty, technical staff), and eight qualified people appointed by the Government of Wallonia, including four prominent foreign individuals and four individuals from the private research and business sector. The Board of the Governors would be chaired by the President of the University of Wallonia, appointed for five years by the government of Wallonia on a proposal from the Board of the Governors. The President would deal exclusively with the work and duties associated with their position. The President and the Board of the Governors would ensure consistency and coordination of the research and teaching activities between the constituent universities through a policy of excellence, specialisation, and integration of the various sections, departments, institutes and research centres. The University of Wallonia would also include all University colleges and institutions offering short-term higher education in Wallonia.
This reform is based on radical empowerment and accountability for the university sector which, as a result, has a coherent decision-making structure for achieving objectives set collectively with representatives of society. It also allows each higher education and research institution to take its place within a group and contribute to developing a common trajectory and plan for society and citizens and for businesses, including associations. The latter will be able to help fund the university research and training, all the more so since they will be close to it and involved in it .
We should add that it is within this radically reworked framework of our higher education and research landscape that we want to position the Wallonia Institute of Technology (WIT), not by taking our inspiration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of a privatisation approach, but based instead on outstanding quality and openness to the world, to society and to businesses. This restructured university environment in Wallonia must also be consistent with the notions of scientific independence and creative potential, also inspired by the FNRS, which represent the best aspects of these institutions. It is, therefore, the commonality approach that must inspire them, including those that, today, are not part of the group.
3. The Wallonia Institute of Technology: A simple job?
Well, no, implementing this plan by 2030 is not straightforward. Nor was it for JFK and NASA to land their countrymen on the moon. But this was the requirement specified by the newspaper L’Echo. And long before this, as I have also mentioned, it was the 2068 Wallonia Odyssey initiative of the UWE and its 600 or more individual and institutional partners.
I will take the plunge by describing The Wallonia Institute of Technology, and then outlining the principles and the funding of this body within the University of Wallonia.
3.1. The Wallonia Institute of Technology is, like its Massachusetts counterpart, a multidisciplinary research institute specialising in technological convergence and dedicated to science and innovation. It is a central creation of the new University of Wallonia, and of the Government of the federal entity Wallonia, which has entered contractual relations with all the former universities to engender a new research and development and innovation approach for the benefit of citizens and businesses. In addition to the fundamental and applied research funds formerly allocated by the Wallonia Region and the French Speeking Community for the benefit of the universities, the Government has provided one billion euro per year to fund this initiative. These funds have been transferred from the regional support packages allocated to businesses, employment, and research (3.3 billion euro in the initial 2019 budget for the Wallonia Region). The initiative is supported and integrated into the Walloon economic ecosystem by the University, which now enjoys full autonomy, while the public authorities look after the partnership assessment of the impacts and results and check the legality of the decisions and expenditure in accordance with the management contract that is to be drawn up.
3.2. The principles on which the WIT is established within the University of Wallonia
3.2.1. Neither the University of Wallonia nor the Wallonia Institute of Technology require any additional structures. It is a question of integrating the existing tools into a polycentric approach with the philosophy of pooling and optimising resources based on a common vision in which the scientific, educational, and social roles are clearly redefined.
3.2.2. The University and the WIT have complete autonomy (including budgetary) from the Government, other than monitoring the impact analysis of the annual budget, which must comply with the decree that redefined the landscape and granted strategic autonomy to the University of Wallonia, including the WIT. Michel Morant and Emmanuel Hassan, on behalf of the LIEU network, drew on the works of the European University Association recently to highlight the benefits of university autonomy: academic autonomy, to determine student admissions, selection criteria, programmes and content, etc., organisational autonomy, to select, appoint and reject the academic authorities based on their own criteria, include external members in their governance organs, etc., financial autonomy, to manage the surpluses at their disposal, borrow, determine student registration fees, etc., and, lastly, human resources management autonomy, enabling universities to decide the recruitment procedures for academic and administrative staff, determine salaries, promotion criteria, etc. According to the authors, greater university autonomy appears to be a major factor in institutionalising the transfer of knowledge. All these types of autonomy should be applicable to the University of Wallonia, whose mission will be to align the various standards in a cost-effective way.
3.2.3. The auditing and partnership assessment for the new venture will be managed by the Court of Auditors, on the initiative of the Parliament of Wallonia.
3.2.4. The Wallonia Institute of Technology is an integrator of strategic fundamental research and high-level applied research. It engages in technological convergence and focuses on a few specific axes, under the supervision of the University’s Council of Governors and with the support of its scientific committee.
3.2.5. The purpose of the University is universal, and its territory is Europe and the world. The University of Wallonia will therefore capitalise on the international and interregional networks and partnerships established by each of its constituent institutions. Strengthening its influence in the European research and higher education sector should enable it to improve the calibre and quality of its key personnel.
3.3. Funding for the University of Wallonia and the WIT
3.3.1. The University of Wallonia has a total annual budget of around two billion euro from funds of the French Speeking Community of Belgium (1.6 billion euro) and the Wallonia Region (around 300 million euro). The budget of the FNRS and the associated funds (around a hundred million euro from the French Community) are included in this figure .
3.3.2. The Wallonia Institute of Technology has a further sum of one billion euro, from the Wallonia Region support package for businesses, employment and research.
3.3.3. The mission of the approved research centres is to join this scheme, along with their regional funding, which should be encouraged by the Region and approved by the University of Wallonia.
I have been asked whether the Government and its administration will be sidelined by the autonomy of this scheme. That is certainly not the case. Both institutions relinquish their power of initiative in favour of a safeguarding role upstream and downstream of the process. For even a hopeless optimist like myself knows the major risk facing this project: that the universities remain committed to the old paradigm that of compromises and sharing resources, influences, and territories. And they excel in this area, as we know. Quite the opposite of the commonality promoted in this text.
Conclusion: the requirement to revolutionise our strategies and ways of thinking
The constitution of a Wallonia Institute of Technology, an organisation attracting laboratories and research centres into the university environment of genuine strategic and budgetary capability that is the University of Wallonia, could be the ideal time to implement a different regime to those described by Nathan Charlier for Flanders and Wallonia, which, ultimately, fail to meet the expectations both governments and societies and of researchers . A new, ambitious model, conceived within a framework of autonomy and pragmatism, could go beyond the regimes of Science, Endless Frontier and economising the value attributed to research by strategic science, without being indifferent to society or to industrial application. Modernisation of fundamental research could be achieved in Wallonia through the independent decisions of the Council of Governors, which would recall the precepts of former European Commissioner Philippe Busquin, who always considered it necessary to allocate a large proportion of resources to fundamental research, believing it was, in the long term, a key element of innovation. But without neglecting thorough applied research and keeping a constant eye on the business environment.
Tools such as Welbio  or Trail  would be invaluable for building effective interfaces, but there are others in other fields. The competitiveness clusters, possibly restricted in number and better financed, could continue their role as integrators of commercial, research and training activities in specific intersecting and promising fields, both regionally and internationally.
In addition, the challenges are not only in the area of research. While mention is frequently made – and rightly so – of the importance of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM), it is also time, as Azeem Azhar reminds us, to bring about a reconciliation between science and literature (humanities), the two cultures highlighted back in 1959 by Charles Percy Snow (1905-1980)  and still as far apart as ever. There are new frontiers to be crossed in the areas of teaching and higher education. Furthermore, Mieke De Ketelaere, a researcher at IMEC and an artificial intelligence expert, recently underlined the long-term importance of human skills: children, she writes, must prepare themselves for a digital future in which social skills have their place. Let us not take these skills away from them by making them think like computers .
Like going to the Moon in the 1960s, the creation of The Wallonia Institute of Technology at the heart of the University of Wallonia is a formidable challenge for the region and a vital tool for its necessary transformation. In his 1962 speech, mentioned above, President Kennedy outlined his motivation, which could also be ours.
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too .
This path requires us to revolutionise our strategies and our ways of thinking. To surpass ourselves.
Some will say it is impossible. Others, those on whom we rely, will get down to work.
 This text is based on the background paper written for the panel organised by the newspaper L’Écho, Quatre personnalités se penchant sur l’avenir de la Wallonie, Le territoire wallon mine d’or pour l’emploi, Panel hosted by Serge QUOIDBACH, Alain NARINX, François-Xavier LEFEVRE and Benoît MAHIEU, with Florence Bosco, Isabelle Ferreras, Marie-Hélène Ska, and Philippe Destatte, in L’Écho, 18 December 2021, p. 15-18.
 Mariana MAZZUCATO, Mission Economy, A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism, p. 3, Dublin, Allen Lane, 2021.
 M. MAZZUCATO, The Entrepreneurial State, Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths, New York, Public Affairs, 2015.
 In foresight, a wildcard is an unexpected, surprising and unlikely event which may have considerable impacts if it occurs.
 See also Ph. DESTATTE, La Wallonie doit reprendre confiance!, in Wallonie, Review of [Economic and Social Council of Wallonia, no.129, February 2016, p. 51-53: https://phd2050.org/2016/03/02/cesw/ – Ph. DESTATTE, Des jardins d’innovations: un nouveau paradigme industriel pour la Wallonie, Blog PhD2050, Namur, 11 November 2018: https://phd2050.org/2016/11/11/ntiw/
 Évaluation de la politique scientifique de la Wallonie et de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, 2018 and 2019, p. 48/103, CESE Wallonie, Pôle Politique scientifique [Scientific Policy Centre], December 2020.
 Azeem AZHAR, Exponential, How Accelerating Technology is leaving us behind and what to do about it?, p. 254-258, London, Random House Business, 2021.
 A. AZHAR, Exponential…, p. 255.
 Commonality, the state of sharing features or attributes, a commonality of interest ensures cooperation. Angus STEVENSON ed., Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford University Press, 3rd ed., 2010.
 Integration of the ULB and the UCLOUVAIN sites in Brussels, including Saint-Louis, would make it possible to dispense with difficult discussions such as those mentioned by Vincent VANDENBERGHE, Réflexions en matière de financement de l’enseignement supérieur en Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Louvain-la-Neuve, 8 July 2021.
 I am thinking of the debate initiated by the minister Jean-Marc Nollet in July 2013 on the notion of possible societal impacts of research. See Nathan CHARLIER, Gouverner la recherche entre excellence scientifique et pertinence sociétale, Une comparaison des régimes flamand et wallon de politique scientifique, p. 73-74, Liège, Presses universitaires de Liège, 2021.
 Michel MORANT et Emmanuel HASSAN, Vers un nouveau modèle pour la valorisation universitaire? Étude d’impact et d’évolution visant à améliorer la valorisation des résultats de la recherche universitaire, Report produced for the Minister for Higher Education and Research, p. 149-150, Liège, Réseau Liaison Entreprises-Universités, 31 October 2020.
 Projets de décrets comprenant les budgets pour l’année 2022 de la Communauté française, Rapport approuvé par la Chambre française de la Cour des Comptes, 26 November 2021, p. 27/63.
 The amounts have been identified based on the initial 2019 budget.
 Nathan CHARLIER, Gouverner la recherche entre excellence scientifique et pertinence sociétale…, p. 272 et seq.
 Laurent ZANELLA, L’Europe a besoin de plus d’Europe, avec Philippe Busquin, dans FNRS News, 121, February 2021, p. 42.
 Welbio is a virtual institute offering research programmes in the health sector (cancer, immunology, neurobiology, microbiology, metabolic diseases, asthma, cardiology, etc.). Welbio is involved, as a representative mission of the Walloon Region, in the Fonds de la recherche fondamentale stratégique [Strategic Fundamental Research Fund] (FRFS), a specialist fund of the FNRS. Welbio, in FNRS News, June 2021, no. 122, p. 16. – Céline RASE, WELBIO: le pas de la recherche fondamentale vers l’industrie, dans FNRS News, October 2019, p. 52-53.
 Launched on 10 September 2020, the objectives of TRAIL (TRusted AI Labs) is to offer all operators in the socio-economic sector the expertise and tools developed in the field of artificial intelligence by the five French-speaking universities (UCLouvain, UMONS, ULB, ULiège and UNamur) and the four approved research centres working in AI (Cenaero, CETIC, Multitel and Sirris) in partnership with the Agence du Numérique and AI4Belgium. TRAIL helps to mobilise research and innovation capabilities in the Walloon and Brussels Regions to support their socio-economic development in the field of artificial intelligence in line with the regional policies pursued in this field. https://trail.ac/
 Charles Percy SNOW, The Two Cultures, Cambridge University Press, 2012. – A. AZHAR, op. cit., p. 7.
 Geertrui Mieke DE KETELAERE, Homme versus machine, L’intelligence artificielle démystifiée, p. 168, Kalmthout, Pelckmans, 2020.