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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Universities and Europe 2020
European University Association annual conference
Aarhus, 15 April 2011
Prime Minister Rasmussen,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like first of all to thank Professor Rapp for his kind invitation to address the European University Association at your annual conference. I have been your guest already twice as President of the Commission, in Glasgow in 2005 and in Lisbon in 2007, but this year it is a particular privilege given that you are celebrating the Association's tenth anniversary.
Allow me also to congratulate Professor Maria Helena Nazaré from Aveiro University on her election as the next President of the European University Association. I wish you every success in this role for the coming years.
I think everyone in this room shares the same objective: to foster Europe's talent and skills for tomorrow. And Aarhus University is a good place to discuss how we deliver on that. With a dynamic economy, the city of Aarhus is a leader in green and innovative growth.
The University itself, although relatively young, has an outstanding global ranking and numerous centres of excellence. I also note an impressive list of distinguished alumni, mustering Royalty, Nobel laureates, national and European politicians, as well as successful entrepreneurs.
The University places particular emphasis on graduate and PhD level students, with masters students outnumbering undergraduates. This focus on extended learning mirrors how the European Commission sees education policy priorities. In fact we have named one of our lifelong learning programmes after a well-known Danish educator, Nikolaj Grundtvig.
Grundtvig's desire to awaken in each person a love of learning that would continue for his or her whole life is – I would assert – even more relevant today than it was 150 years ago, when he founded Denmark's famous 'folk high schools'.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Over the last two days, you have been discussing the challenges European universities face in the current socio-economic climate. The scale of Europe's challenges cannot be underestimated. As we emerge from the worst financial crisis since the start of the European integration, the stakes could not be higher.
The European Commission has been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of the European Union response. The crisis has forced us to come to terms with the reality of the interconnections between us. But working together to find the solutions to these problems has brought us to a level of economic integration that would have been unthinkable one year ago. Yet there is still much to do.
It is time to draw a line under this crisis and to put all our efforts into delivering strong and sustainable growth in Europe. And to do that, we must concentrate our efforts on a broad reform agenda for Europe.
It is in this spirit that one year ago the European Commission launched the Europe 2020 Strategy, our roadmap for new growth and jobs. We have since launched the seven Europe 2020 "flagship initiatives" – seven policy action plans to deliver in the key areas for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Member States are now finalising their National Reform Programmes for structural reforms in a consolidated fiscal context and in the framework of strengthened economic governance.
The structures are in place, the plans are almost ready. Now it is time to move to the implementation phase. And universities can play a key role in this.
As a former academic, I am convinced that universities will rise to the challenge.
As President of the European Commission, I would encourage you to do so wholeheartedly. Higher education institutions have a fundamental role in driving prosperity and wellbeing for our continent. We need you to play this part to the full.
In this context, the title of this conference – "Investing Today in Talent for Tomorrow" could hardly have been better chosen.
This title conveys two vital messages: On one hand, it implies that we must invest in talent and skills today if we are to exit the crisis. And on the other hand, that talent and skills are central to reforming Europe's economy and offering a different, more prosperous future. I could not agree more. So please allow me to reflect firstly on investment and secondly on modernisation.
Europe needs to invest in its people and in research and innovation; it has to value talent and use high-level education and skills to master the challenges ahead.
But how can we ensure the necessary funding for Europe's universities at a time of fiscal consolidation across the European Union, when public finances are under such enormous pressure?
In setting the scene for Member States' national reform planning, I have advocated "smart" fiscal consolidation - singling out education, research and innovation as growth friendly expenditure. The Commission will look at each Member State's National Reform Plan to be sure they are in line with these priorities.
But to get things right for Europe's talents and skills is not only about how much you spend, but how you spend it.
This brings me to the pivotal place of talent and skills in a dynamic, 21st century economy. Increased global competition, coupled with the need to produce more graduates from tightening budgets, are among the challenges that the Commission will address in its proposals on the modernisation of higher education in Europe this autumn.
The Commission has no power to create legally-binding rules in the field of education. But, like the European University Association, we do have a pan-European overview of the challenges the sector is facing. Our policy proposals will set out how we would like to help Member States and the sector tackle the issues at stake.
I would like here to take a moment to thank the Association and its members for responding in such great numbers to our consultation on the modernisation strategy. Our online questionnaire attracted over 2,300 responses, most from universities and other higher education institutions.
The need for skilled people to contribute to innovation; equipping young people for the job market; the contribution of higher education to economic growth; getting young people to study and train abroad - these are all burning questions we sought your views on, and to which you have brought many valuable insights and contributions.
I am pleased to see this pro-active approach that is determined to secure the best future for our young people. Because, make no mistake, young people have been particularly hard hit by the crisis.
Despite the need for Europe to produce greater numbers of highly-skilled graduates, paradoxically, youth unemployment is unacceptably high, even among those with university degrees. That is why we must have university courses and structures that are better adapted and relevant to the globalised, technological, modern world.
Looking ahead, continued work on the modernisation agenda will hopefully allow universities to help deliver on at least three of the seven Europe 2020 flagship initiatives relevant to higher education, namely: "Youth on the Move", "Innovation Union" and "An Agenda for new skills and jobs".
Allow me to expand on these, starting with "New skills and jobs". We have set out a programme of actions to support targeted investment in education and anticipation of skill needs in order to achieve the employment target of 75% by 2020. Improving education levels by, among others, increasing completion of tertiary education to at least 40% in 2020 is the commitment we have proposed for the EU.
If we are serious about adapting to a globalised world, we must do more to enable our students to study abroad. The "Youth on the Move" initiative aims to give all young people the chance to study in another country.
Let me be clear, this is not a luxury. In today's world, it is more important than ever. Studying abroad improves people's career prospects, and gives them the knowledge, skills and experience to function in a competitive world. After all, the mobile student of today will be the mobile worker of tomorrow.
That is also why, as a key action of our Single Market Act, adopted by the Commission this week, to open up the full potential of the internal market for growth and jobs, we will improve the rules on the recognition of professional qualifications.
And the effects of internationalisation not only benefit the individual student, they can also have a profoundly positive impact on universities, by inspiring new curricula and different ways of working.
The second flagship I mentioned, the "Innovation Union", is set to deliver a real and tangible change in the way we innovate in Europe, in areas ranging from science and technology-driven innovation, to boosting industry competitiveness, new business models, or creative design and marketing.
With this flagship, the Commission is putting in place the right framework conditions to strengthen our knowledge base and tackle the barriers that stop good ideas from getting to market. The Innovation Union gives us a framework. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology gives us a model. The EIT intensifies the interaction between people all along the innovation chain, from students, researchers and professors to entrepreneurs, financial actors and business. Because innovation is more than research funding or infrastructures; it is also about people.
If we get it right, the benefits will be significant. New, innovative solutions will not only greatly benefit our societies. They will also create tomorrow's business opportunities, revenue and employment.
It is important that those who have the ideas can benefit fairly from them. A balanced intellectual property regime that rewards creation and invention but allows fair access to knowledge is essential.
Next month the Commission will present an intellectual property strategy addressing these issues. And I would also like to mention the proposals the Commission presented earlier this week to finally put in place an EU patent protection across as many Member States as possible.
Let me finish with a word on the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework for EU spending. Prioritising education, research and innovation as part of the Europe 2020 efforts will also require adequate reflection in this context. This future EU-budget for the period after 2013 will be all about European added value.
In areas like research, a euro spent at European level can have a greater effect. Because EU funding can bring people together, pooling knowledge and creating synergies, and allowing investment in the development of European specialisms which would simply not be possible at national level alone.
The Commission will be focusing on these principles as we prepare a Common Strategic Framework for the future funding of research and innovation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This Association has been a key interlocutor for the European Commission on European higher education over the last ten years. Your voice in shaping reforms and your drive in seeing them through will be invaluable for the next ten years.
I know we share a vision of the central role of higher education in the renaissance of our economies and society. Europe has a rich history of learning, experimentation and innovation. If, in the next millennium Europe is to carry on making history, not being history, we need to invest smartly and wisely. For, as Benjamin Franklin said: "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest".
I hope that I can count on your continued support as Europe faces up to our shared challenges with vigour and determination.
Thank you for your attention.