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Speech: International Congress of Higher Education - Opening speech

European Commission - SPEECH/14/120   10/02/2014

Other available languages: ES

European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]


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

International Congress of Higher Education - Opening speech

International Congress of Higher Education

Theatre Karl Marx, Havana, 10 February 2014

(Address presiding dignitaries)

It is a great honour for me to be here with you today for the opening of this International Congress of Higher Education.

I wish to thank the organizers, the Government and the people of Cuba for their warm welcome.

This is my first visit to Cuba.

I have already had the opportunity to visit the capital and to see the achievements in preserving the rich history of this country. The Cuban legacy is impressive and very attractive to the visitor. Its ties to Europe, are indeed undeniable.

But I am well aware that this beautiful country is not only about monuments, however significant.

Cuba has set the development of its people its highest priority and I want to congratulate its leaders for that and only wish that this will continue to be the case in the future.

My own work in the European Commission in Culture, and both Education and Youth, also places highly the development of our human capital and the preparation of our people for the future challenges.

The levels of education, including higher education, achieved in Cuba over the past half a century are reasons for pride. The cultural identity of this country is also a strong one, with high visibility on the international scene.

We in the European Union are proud of our own cultural richness and diversity and are well aware that Cuba is a microcosm, a crossroad of races and rhythms, blended into one national identity.

That identity deserves to be cherished and preserved.

Globalisation brings many challenges in today's world. And those challenges rest in large part with the young generations, the ones already in tertiary education and about to graduate, and the ones who still have to decide about their future and on whether to pursue higher education.

Young people have dreams and expectations. That's why their choices have to be informed ones. They have to know what their future role in society will be. They expect opportunities that correspond to their knowledge, their skills and abilities. They need meaningful and rewarding employment.

Dear friends,

The EU and Cuba share many challenges. Among which, an ageing population. This puts many future burdens on the younger generations. They have to be ready and prepared to assume additional responsibilities. It is not sufficient to train their academic and scientific skills. We need to maintain and further encourage their personal fulfilment and their social consciousness.

Youth unemployment is another battle that we share. We as politicians and decision makers have to ensure that our countries don't lose the greatest asset of our future, eager young minds. That is why the European Union's strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, Europe 2020, includes the target of 40% of young people completing higher education by 2020.

Reaching these attainment levels requires increasing participation in higher education from all social groups, including the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Equity in access to higher education is therefore one of the responsibilities that lie deep in the core of our higher education institutions and in the agenda of policy makers.

The modernisation of higher education requires also addressing innovation and that certainly includes how education is supported and provided. This is another responsibility we all share. There is no doubt that the way education is provided is already affected by new technologies. This is a challenge for all of us, but I certainly believe that, at the same time, it is a great opportunity for countries where the demand for higher education services is fast rising, like those of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

I am ready to speak and to listen in the coming days to what we can achieve together, to face the many challenges we share.

I wish all participants a fruitful and successful Congress.

Muchas gracias

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