The role of education in the New Europe 2020

Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

As the European Union sets its new political agenda in a time of crisis and change, there is one thing on which all are agreed: innovation is the best way forward for Europe. Only innovation will ensure growth and development and secure quality of life in Europe. Only innovation will keep Europe at the competitive leading edge.

Moving out of the crisis is the immediate challenge, but the biggest challenge is to resist the temptation to try to return to the pre-crisis situation. Even before the crisis, there were many areas, including innovation, where Europe was not progressing fast enough relative to the rest of the world.

Yet innovation is a widely recognised necessity. Leading companies and public and private bodies have long pleaded for innovation to be given all the importance it deserves.

Shared objective

The 2009 European Year of Creativity and Innovation has shown that innovation is far from being a narrow sectoral interest for policy-makers, industrialists or researchers: innovation is a widely accepted and shared objective.

The number and diversity of projects and ideas put forward in 2009 to foster creativity and innovation greatly exceeded our most optimistic expectations, and came from all walks of life.

This broad endorsement calls for an appropriate response, and the Commission is listening carefully. Europe 2020, the European Union’s new strategy for growth and social cohesion, hinges on innovation and creativity.

Education is an essential lever for achieving the objectives of Europe 2020. Two of the strategy’s three priorities, smart growth, based on knowledge and innovation, and an inclusive high- employment society, as well as three of its seven flagship initiatives (Innovation Union, Youth on the Move, and An Agenda for New Skills and Jobs) depend critically on education and training.

The 2009 Manifesto of the European Ambassadors for Creativity and Innovation fittingly highlights the links between lifelong learning, creative thinking at all levels of education, strong cultural industries, scientific research geared to improving people’s lives and stimulating innovation, design processes and thinking, and business innovation.

The interdependence between education, research and innovation – often referred to as the knowledge triangle – is a key element of European innovation policy.

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) – which is just now becoming fully operational – was a first step in establishing the best conditions for developing and strengthening these relationships.

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology role is to stimulate co-operation between innovation players, opening new ways for all forms of innovation, be it social, scientific or technological.

Youth on the move

Youth on the Move is set to build on successful programmes like Erasmus to enhance the effectiveness and international attractiveness of Europe’s higher-education system.

Modern curricula and governance responsive to social needs, adequate funding, and increased accountability of universities’ performance and educational results are core aspects of this.

An immediate effect should be to improve the employment prospects of young people, who are amongst those who have been worst hit by the crisis, and to increase the number of young people choosing research and innovation careers in the private or the public sector.

But if higher-education graduates, researchers and entrepreneurs are the obvious innovation partners, they certainly do not come out of thin air.

Making the Innovation Union happen starts at school. The young scientists and innovators that Europe needs will come from effective education systems that identify and nurture talent, fostering and valuing the skills and attitudes in which innovation is grounded – creativity, initiative, responsibility, team-working – and leveraging all existing resources, such as ICT.

This is why Youth on the Move is set to raise the quality of all levels of lifelong education and training in the European Union, including formal, non-formal and informal learning, and learning at work.

Agenda for new skills and jobs

The Agenda for New Skills and Jobs means empowering people to adapt to new conditions through the acquisition of new skills. It will give an impetus to the strategic framework that we have put in place for European co-operation in education and training over the coming decade.

That framework hinges on the implementation of lifelong learning principles, in co-operation with member states and involving all stakeholders, including the social partners.

Advanced innovation systems in Europe are characterised by rich lifelong learning opportunities, supporting a skilled and motivated workforce in which people are able to take decisions and develop responsibility for their work.

Flagship initiatives

More could be said about education in the Europe 2020 flagship initiatives. For example, the Digital Agenda requires digital skills at all levels of cempetancy. Digital literacy has become an essential key competence, and its uneven distribution – the so-called digital divide – is fast becoming a 21st-century form of social exclusion.

The Digital Agenda also means getting young people interested in the whys and the hows of the digital media and of the devices that they use: for Europe to become a first-order player in the development of the digital civilisation, a first-order, creative IT workforce is essential.

Finally, other existing Community instruments will be geared to the Europe 2020 agenda. As Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, I plan to mobilise another important innovation lever: culture, including the cultural and creative industries sector, which is a strong European asset, both on its own terms and as a factor in broader economic activity.

Creative partnerships are increasingly used by business as well as by education to unlock creative talent and innovation capacities. Creativity and imaginative thinking are at the source of innovation in all sectors.

This concerted contribution from education will help transform the European innovation landscape; this is essential to achieve the European Union’s long- standing goals of growth, competitiveness and social cohesion.


Androulla Vassiliou,
European Commissioner for Education,
Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

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