Prosperity, Solidarity, Justice: Universities and the State of the EU
The Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, underlined in today’s State of the European Union speech, his aspiration for the EU to become first “in innovation, digitisation and decarbonisation.”
In his address, the EU’s need to lead change was grounded in its core values: freedom, equality, the rule of law, as well as an understanding of democracy that is based on solidarity. These values commit the EU to addressing the big social economic and security challenges of today, including migration, the protection of citizens in their pursuit of opportunity, and defence.
Juncker’s speech challenges not just the EU, but also universities. Universities are central to the creation of knowledge. We educate 40% of Europe’s population in early adulthood, and our graduates are tomorrow’s innovators. But the EU has also made a fundamental contribution to the creation of new knowledge sponsoring groundbreaking, collaborative mission-driven research, as well as frontier-led research through the European Research Council and the Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Actions. Increasing funding for research and innovation in line with the Lamy Report’s recommendations will be crucial if Juncker’s vision is to be realised.
Research, Innovation and Education are integral to the aspirations Juncker articulated in other ways, even if we are still looking for ways to do this better. I can think of three:
- Building solidarity. There is now general support that world-class excellence must be the fundamental criterion for European research and innovation. This cannot be watered down. But this must not lead to a growing capacity gap in research and innovation amongst Europe’s regions. How can we be smarter, more collaborative, and more resourceful in addressing this problem?
- Migration. How do we best integrate the knowledge and capacity of refugee academics, and of refugee experts, who do not have papers to demonstrate their expertise? There are some initiatives on the way, such as the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, and universities (for instance, Bologna, King’s College London, and Tübingen) are already pioneering a broad number of projects to help.
- Widening opportunities. It is a challenge to educational institutions, not just at tertiary level, to be genuinely open to the best minds regardless of socioeconomic background. This is primarily a national concern, but surely we can learn much more from each other. The EU, through its skills agenda or through Erasmus+, can help encourage social openness across borders so that mobility and benefiting from a genuinely European labour market is open to all.
Here are three examples where we can point to many outstanding individual initiatives but where we must be honest in acknowledging that we can still do more. It is only by accepting that we have not yet got all the answers that we can assess the evidence of what works and present it to decision-makers to inform policies and public initiatives that will fully realise our ambitions for an EU that is more prosperous, more sustainable, and more just.