Urenio Watch Watch: Knowledge Economy

Unlocking European universities’ enormous potential

The European Commission has taken a position on how best to modernise Europe’s universities, in order to make their contribution to the EU’s objective to become a leading global and knowledge-based economy. The universities have enormous potential, much of which unfortunately goes untapped because of various rigidities and hindrances.

Freeing up the substantial reservoir of knowledge, talent and energy requires immediate, in-depth and coordinated change: from the way in which systems are regulated and managed, to the ways in which universities are governed. The Commission’s ideas are presented in a Communication adopted at 10 May 2006 which covers all activities of Europe’s universities: their delivery of education, their research activities, and their potential as drivers of innovation. This text responds to a request made at the informal meeting of the European Council in Hampton Court in October 2005 to identify areas for action on universities that can be used to drive forward the Growth and Jobs agenda.

Ján Figel’, Commissioner in charge of Education & Training, said: “Although they train and teach millions of people each year, Europe’s higher education systems remain hampered by a number of obstacles, many of which are decades old. The Communication adopted today is a contribution to the debate on the necessary modernisation of EU’s universities.”

”Universities are power-houses of knowledge generation” said Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik. “They will need to adapt to the demands of a global, knowledge-based economy, just as other sectors of society and economy have to adapt. The ideas we are putting forward today should help kick-start a debate among Member States, and also within universities themselves.”

The European Commission identifies 9 areas where changes should be made so that Europe’s universities can contribute to the creation of a true knowledge economy. Each institution should find the balance of education, research and innovation which is best suited to its role in its region or country. This will necessarily mean a differentiated approach. The aim is to create a framework within which universities can become stronger players in the global knowledge society and economy. The primary goal must be to achieve excellence in the teaching and research functions of universities.

The proposals put forward by the Commission include:

1. Break down the barriers around universities in Europe
2. Ensure real autonomy and accountability for universities
3. Provide incentives for structured partnerships with the business community
4. Provide the right mix of skills and competencies for the labour market
5. Reduce the funding gap and make funding work more effectively in education and research
6. Enhance interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity
7. Activate knowledge through interaction with society
8. Reward excellence at the highest level
9. Make the European higher education area and the European research area more visible and attractive in the world

The Commission stands ready to support the modernisation of EU universities through a process of identifying and sharing good practice, and through its funding programmes for education, research and innovation: the Lifelong Learning Programme, the Seventh Framework Programme for research and development, the Competitiveness and Innovation programme, and the Structural and Cohesion Funds.