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European Commission

Androulla VASSILIOU

Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Developing a stronger entrepreneurial mind-set in Europe

EIT Foundation Annual Innovation Forum /Brussels

26 March 2013

Dear Minister,

Dear Chairman of the EIT Foundation,

Dear Chairman of the EIT Governing Board,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I'm delighted to be here with you this morning to open the first Annual Innovation Forum of the EIT Foundation.

I would like to thank all those who made the event possible, and I extend a special thanks to the Representation of Bavaria for hosting this Forum.

Today, we will be discussing data-driven innovation, and its importance for economic growth.

But before we do, I would like to say a few words about the EIT Foundation.

It is the first Foundation created by a body of the EU – the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. Completely independent from the EU institutions, the Foundation was set up to give the EIT more impact.

It encourages individual talent, innovative teaching methods and the spread of good practice.

It helps bring together experts like you from the worlds of education, research, business and policymaking. With events like today's Annual Innovation Forum, you are able to explore how Europe can address innovation challenges – such as big data - create economic opportunities and promote well-being.

But the EIT Foundation also helps to address the current skills and innovation gaps and plays a part in directly promoting economic growth and jobs.

With youth unemployment at record highs, Europe is faced with the paradox of having a highly educated generation of young people but two million unfilled job vacancies.

In a clear response to this challenge of matching skills with labour market needs, the Foundation is developing an internship programme. It will give talented people the opportunity to work in entrepreneurial and innovative framework and encourage the development of skills in demand.

This work by the EIT Foundation will contribute to developing a stronger entrepreneurial mind-set in Europe; it will contribute to a more creative and forward-looking Europe.

The EIT Foundation has also launched the 'Young Leaders' Group', a group of 30 young professionals, entrepreneurs and students, whose aim is to ponder over innovation challenges and propose recommendations. Their new and inspiring inputs allow giving a fresh and forward-thinking vision for the future. Later, we will get some inspiring insights on this when we hear from the Young Leaders Group.

The EIT Foundation is an innovation in itself. Not only does it promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe, it has introduced a truly innovative governance model: world-renowned companies have come together on a voluntary basis to form an independent entity whose objective is a Europe of innovation.

I would like to personally congratulate the EIT Foundation community for their commitment and their vision and I strongly wish it continued success with its development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thanks to the EIT Foundation, we can look forward to closer collaboration between academia and business; the development of a more entrepreneurial education; the creation of a new generation of young leaders with an entrepreneurial mind-set and the right skills and attitudes to promote innovation.

And this brings us precisely to our topic today of data-driven innovation.

Information is becoming available in unprecedented quantities. There has been an explosion of data of all kinds: climate information gathered by remote sensors around the world; urban traffic flow information derived from video cameras, traffic lights and cell phone signals; logistics information from trucks using GPS positioning.

In the internet age, the opportunities to have a positive impact on society and the economy are enormous, but only if we can make an effective use of all this data

Making sense of data is key to taking better-informed decisions in education, business, research but also policy. It can help us to find innovative solutions to great societal challenges. This is the new frontier of the information age.

Researchers already use data mining to speed up and improve scientific discovery. Innovative businesses are exploring data to improve operational efficiency, productivity and consumer satisfaction - and to develop new products and services. The US government has recently announced a series of Open Data Initiatives to stimulate a rising tide of innovation and entrepreneurship that will contribute to economic growth and create jobs. Many other Governments are opening up public datasets for reuse, enabling better policymaking and improving the delivery of public services, such as traffic management or smart grids.

Such innovation is also taking place in the field of education as universities and educators share their learning materials and research online. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are being created by universities and individuals around the world and are driving a new wave of participation in higher education.

In the current path to stimulate European growth and jobs, there has never been a more critical time to harness the potential of data to benefit society and the economy.

Data has been called "the transformative new currency for science, engineering, education, commerce and government".

The challenge facing us now is not primarily a scientific or technological one. Information and data will continue to accrue.

The challenge is changing the culture and the conditions that help or hinder the rise of innovation.

If we are to take full advantage of data-driven innovation we need the people with the skills who can do this. And we need to invest in this talent. A data-driven economy demands a highly skilled, entrepreneurial and innovative workforce. Technical skills – such as computer science, data analytics and visualisation, statistics and information science skills are obviously crucial. But they are not enough. Meeting the innovation challenge demands more.

We need to add foreign languages and transversal skills; that is, the ability to think critically, take initiative, solve problems and work as a team. And by combining all this with entrepreneurial skills, we can capture the strong potential of big data and create new businesses and increase employability.

Of course, if we are to expect people to have all these skills, our education and training systems must be able to provide them.

At the moment, too often, this is not the case. The challenge, then, is also changing outdated ways of learning.

To help countries in Europe reform and modernise their systems, I recently presented European education ministers with a strategy on "re-thinking education".

My initiative takes a system-wide perspective on education and marks a fresh start to unlock the potential of education and training systems to support growth and jobs.

I have outlined a number of concrete actions that countries need to take to reduce skills shortages, arguing that learning should be more flexible and stressing the vital role of teachers and the impact of new technologies.

In the coming months, in collaboration with my colleague Neelie Kroes, I will present a new EU Initiative on opening up education. We need to embed ICT and Open Educational Resources into the learning and teaching that take place in our schools and universities.

Quality of teaching and the digital era are also the two subjects of reflection of the High Level group on the Modernisation of Higher Education I set up last September at European level.

In line with the Agenda on the Modernisation of Higher Education I presented in 2011, I want to stress the crucial importance of partnership between learning institutions and business organisations.

To establish a dialogue between the worlds of education and business, the European Commission launched a few years back the University-Business Forum. Set up as a platform where different players can meet and learn from each other, the Forum has shown that academia and business want closer cooperation on education. Dialogue is important, but we need to go one step further.

For this, the Commission is promoting Knowledge Alliances, and has included them in the new EU programme proposed for the next seven years, Erasmus for All.

These Knowledge Alliances are structured partnerships between business and academia to deliver new and innovative teaching methods and approaches, and to promote entrepreneurship and more entrepreneurial mind-sets.

The EIT has of course a major role to play in this. With its Knowledge and Innovation Communities - the KICs - the EIT responds to the paradox that Europe has some of the world's top research institutes, universities and businesses, but a weaker innovation capacity than its competitors.

The EIT addresses the core of the challenge. In order to bridge the gap between excellent ideas and business creation, the EIT brings together within KIC partnerships, all those involved in the innovation cycle: businesses, research centres and, for the first time, universities and engineering schools.

We have set up the first three KICs, working on climate change, ICT and sustainable energy around 17 European excellence centres.

Start-up companies have been created, patents granted, European educational programmes launched. For the future, we have proposed six new KICs to address societal challenges in the EU, such as healthy living and active ageing, the food supply chain, or the sustainable exploration, processing, recycling and substitution of raw materials.

With the EIT, we are changing the way we approach Innovation in Europe. We are bringing change of mind-set towards a more entrepreneurial culture in Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For too long our innovation policies were limited to the traditional idea that massive investment in research would automatically lead to innovation. This is certainly a pre-requisite, but it is not enough. Education must be at the centre of our innovation policies because, ultimately, people are at the heart of innovation.

Big data is certainly the 'innovation story of our time'; its use can underpin new waves of economic growth and the well-being of societies. But to fully exploit its innovation potential, we have to invest in our talented people.

And for this, I am very pleased to congratulate once more the EIT Foundation; and especially our Young Leaders.

You are the proof that Europe holds talent from North to South, West to East; in the academic, institutional, research and business sectors; in the social sciences, chemical, law, engineering, physics and IT sectors.

You are the proof that through support to entrepreneurial and collaborative education programmes, we can drive innovation forward.

Your fresh new ideas are inspiration for all of us here today.

Thank you very much.


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