Friday

19th Apr 2019

Opinion

Innovation can keep EU universities ahead of the pack

  • Europe produces around 30 percent of the world's scientific publications (Photo: Pixabay)

When we picture the vectors for new European ambition, we see universities and higher education communities as the right vector to be focusing at.

They support European prosperity and values, and are in charge of teaching and training the next generation of future talents.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Universities are the focal point of education, research and innovation – what is known as the triangle of knowledge. To the knowledge-based economy, they are what plants and factories were to the industrial economy. So in a nutshell, the triangle of knowledge has to be the centrepiece in Europe's future.

Europe's share of the global GDP has been shrinking for a while. The OECD estimates that global growth will be driven increasingly by innovation and skill investment. At the same time, production will shift from energy-intensive physical assets to intangible assets.

We could benefit from that – if we are prepared to be a change leader rather than merely reacting to it.

Europe is a scientific powerhouse with 1.8 million researchers working in thousands of universities, research centres and world-leading manufacturing industries.

Only seven percent of the worlds' population lives in Europe holding a quarter of the global GDP and yet Europe produces around 30 percent of the world's scientific publications.

This is more than an impressive starting point. The recently published Lamy Report pointed out that EU investment within research and innovation fosters international collaboration and competition of a scale, scope and speed that no single country in the world can match.

Therefore, as we look toward a post-Brexit EU budget, we need to keep on prioritising research and innovation.

But addressing the EU's growth deficit cannot be done solely by investing heavily in research and innovation.

A structural shift in our politics is needed: and the key is to break down silos. Today, research and higher education issues are often treated separately.

This is not least the case within the EU decision-making and institutional process. In both the French and Danish government, the same ministry is in charge of higher education, research and innovation offering a global view to seek coherence in policy-making among the three.

We will not reach the appropriate level of competitiveness and create jobs without innovation; there is no innovation without research; and conversely there is no research and innovation without people with the right knowledge, skills and competences.

The Union programmes to follow Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ must break down silos and foster the needed link between higher education and research around shared objectives: providing high quality, research-based education and teaching that equip graduates with personal and professional strength to act and innovate, and allow our societies to remain sustainable.

Solutions to many of the major challenges that we face now and in the upcoming decades will come from science and research. Climate change, scarcity of natural resources, providing medical treatment to an ageing European population, automatisation of production and the provision of services, to name but a few of these.

The next Erasmus generation

The proliferation of digital news outlets, blogs, social media along with the general polarisation of public debate entails a risk.

Facts, analysis and reflections are too often sidelined by confrontational and ill-founded outbursts. The antidote lies in science and education. Or, to use the terminology of the French philosophers in the days of European enlightenment, the role of education lies in shaping individuals into contributors to the social good.

To this end, the Erasmus programme has allowed generations of young Europeans to study in other EU member states. In order to strengthen their academic skills, become multilingual, learn other ways to deal with an academic subject and experience life and another culture.

We must take advantage of this success. The next generation of the Erasmus programme should focus on mobility and quality: we want to see many students and other young people, especially apprentices, going abroad with Erasmus, universities in different countries developing joint curricula, and we want our students to come back stronger with a strengthened European perspective.

Language contains the roots of a nation's culture. Fully understanding each other's culture requires the ability to speak each other's language.

Young people must therefore be given the opportunity to explore Europe and learn at least two foreign languages – to discover and understand our shared history, culture, values and future in Europe. We are interdependent nations; this is our strength at a global level.

We need to develop new ways to adapt to the evolving behaviours and expectations of the digital native students.

It means using all the possibilities the European Credit and Transfer (ECTS) credit system provides for allowing shorter and more flexible curricula, during the whole life, rethinking the role and importance of students' geographical, but also course-specific, mobility and providing students with new skills to seize or create new economic opportunities.

If we want to achieve these goals, one of the key issues of course lies in how institutions and individuals, namely teachers, are incentivised to take risk and innovate.

Teaching and learning must be based more on education research and should include a problem-based or project-based approach to reinforce students' self-reliance in learning.

We have to continue this shift towards new pedagogical scenarios. When excellent research lends itself to the education of students, it fosters innovation.

One of the best ways to disseminate science and research throughout the society is to do so through the professional achievements of graduates taking their knowledge into society to build start-ups or translate the newest research into better ways of producing, manufacturing or developing within the market and society.

This leads us to our last and broader thought. Both at a national level and within the EU, we need to start dealing with higher education and research as two sides of the same coin.

Universities at a crossroad

Excellent research is based on exceptional education, and exceptional education is based on excellent research.

European universities are at a crossroad, and we are currently living in a specific, if not historical, period with a strong need, all across the European Higher Education Area, for pedagogical and organisational transformation.

President Macron has put forward the idea to create 'European universities', strong alliances between four to six universities, delivering common diplomas and leading together joint research and innovation projects.

This initiative contributes to answering Europe's need to develop an integrated policy for research-higher education-innovation, in order to support knowledge as a shared good that Europe and its people can benefit and prosper from.

We, France and Denmark, urge our fellow member states to join us in this call for Europe's strong position in the future global economy through research, innovation and higher education.

Soren Pind is Danish minister for higher education and science, Frederique Vidal is French minister of higher education, research and innovation

Macron's EU vision doesn't fit Europe

Emmanuel Macron's speech was delivered with an eloquence only French politicians can muster. Its content, however, was also very 'French' - and that's the crux of the matter.

How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us