eu-educationDebating Europe has been taking a look recently at both European education and at Europe’s place in the world in the context of the rise of China and other developing economies. Amongst other things, we’ve been discussing a suggestion on the platform from Riccardo Perissich, former Director General for Industry in the European Commission, who argued that the “Swiss” education model might be worth following. In other words: could a “European research space” be better developed through the use of European academies, run at the EU level? Might these allow member-states to concentrate both education and research efforts into “centres of excellence”?

We had a comment come in from the European Students’ Union that was fairly critical of this idea:

Instead of creating a few EU universities, we would rather see the European Commission come up with a plan to solve the social problems and financial obstacles that students face when trying to study. We do not need more excellency, but rather more students and graduates.

We also spoke to Rudolf Strohmeier, Deputy Director General of Research and Innovation for the European Commission, and asked him what he thought of this proposal. Whilst he didn’t endorse the idea of “EU academies”, he also disagreed with the European Students’ Union in that he thought “more excellency” was definitely necessary, and he warned that more needs to be done in terms of coordination of research efforts at the EU level.

We have to face a situation where Europe as a continent needs to focus and to bundle its means, at least in certain sectors, to get critical mass in competition. The fact that less than 10% of public research efforts are spent at the EU level means that greater coordination has the opportunity to create added value. We have to take a holistic view.

If Europe was a Swiss system, this would be interesting. One thing is education, and the other element is promoting excellence in research. 40% of Swiss professors are not Swiss nationals, so they obviously have quite an interesting scheme to attract intelligent people into their research sector. One could argue that the US after WWII profitted heavily from a brain-drain at the rest of the world’s expense. Why not Europe competing at the same level, and investing in this same kind of attraction?

In Europe, we face a problem because we often struggle to get our excellent research results into the marketplace. We have to cross this ‘valley of death’ much faster than in the past. To operate, particularly in certain high-tech areas, on a purely national level would not create this momentum and provide the market uptake that Europe as a continent would need to compete with the US and now China. So what we need is a European home market for these innovative products and services. And this implies a European scale from the outset, including certain pilot projects which can be highly costly. And to believe this can all be done at the member-state level… well, even the big member-states might have difficulty financing this on their own.

Finally, we also spoke to Michele Trickey, Vice President of AIESEC (the largest youth-run organisation in the world). Michele was more sceptical about the benefits of creating “centres of excellence”, and wondered if greater competition might rather yield better results.

I wonder what would be the benefit of EU management. At AIESEC, we find a lot of success in being a “platform.” That is, we try to control or manage as little as possible. Instead, we enable multiple centers to access global resources. In our experience, if you have a single centre that’s very good at something, then innovation slows as others wait for that centre to come up with something new. We see much more innovation come out of competing centres, which keep the system alive and self-perpetuating. Each of them innovates independently, and then we support them to come together and share. Then they learn from the other, leading to greater net innovation. It’s a wonderful learning process for the youth who run the organisation.

What do YOU think? Do European member-states need to concentrate their efforts in terms of research and education? Should they set up “centres of excellence” to compete with China and the US? Or should the EU merely try to facilitate and promote greater competition between existing institutions? Let us know your thoughts in the form below and we’ll take your comments to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

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19 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Albert Saxén

    Can. Very easily
    Students must go at least 2yrs beyond high school (Zell Miller) after high school. Hereby get an AA.

    In actual fact, we should only study at university what it is we want to study – major. We should also not go there if we feel we are not ready. Or don’t want to.The U.S. should improve and teach what ..should already be learnt in high school (Gen Ed) then forget electives;what is the point of (re)learning smth you were meant to learn in HS but then,equally the point of spending time and money on as many electives (60) as your major and (already repeated) gen ed (thus, 36+27 let’s say) combined?

    European universities are better at this. Actually, I’d say the American master’s is equivalent to the European bachelor. It is similar in length, all the courses for a masters are repeated anyhow from undergrad ..tis not the paper it is the education one receives and the dynamisms between teacher and student that go into it.

    • Drew

      You’ve got to be kidding. There is no way a US Master’s is equivalent to an EU Bachelor’s degree, unless one compares a low-quality US school with the likes of Oxford. The purpose of general education in the US isn’t to repeat what one ought to have learned at high school (though the need to address issues students ought to have learned in high school is a major issue). Rather, the goal of general education is to deepen a student’s level of understanding in all fields. The view is that in a fast moving technological society, a broad and deep understanding of the world is useful. Engineers need to be able to communicate and have a strong grasp of history. Lawyers need to be able to understand physics.

      Google search the Liberal Arts model. The model of diverse education at the Bachelor’s level was incorporated into the goal of general education requirements at most US universities. Learning to learn and learning to succeed in areas that are not a natural fit for a student are key. Employers know that graduates can learn, adapt in unfamiliar situations, and have a deep understanding of the world around them. Graduates are more than just students who studied what they were good at. A Master’s, in contrast, seeks to add original research. A PhD seeks to add significant, high-level research that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge.

  2. Liina

    European eduacation and research can compete with the US and China only if rapid changes in the educational system are made. Firstly the level of educational system is not the same in all the states. Secondly the global information age poses new challenges and forces us to look beyond the excisiting systems.

  3. Christos Mouzeviris

    I wonder why didn’t it happen until now…Not only we could compete with them, but surely outrace them! We have some of the best Universities in the World, combine them and see what happens….

  4. Linmu

    Actually, I do not think EU education can be beaten by Chinese Education, but far in lead position. Compared with US, EU’s education seems weaker but still be competitive. There are too much political elements in the universities of China, that is the reason why so many chinese stus go abroad for further education. For the EU’s position in the world, I definitely believe that China and US will share the rights to speak in the near future.EU people should work harder and stop complaining and look at how germans work and developing Germany.

  5. Christos Mouzeviris

    So Linmu you are saying that we should all become Germans…Work work work….Is that right…?? Well hell no… Whatever happened the “united in diversity” motto? You can not model all European nations after one….
    Besides…don’t you see what happens to the nations Like Japan, Germany and Sweden that work too much…?? They have the highest suicide rates in the world…Something is wrong in their system..Humans are not meant to be machines…We need quality time, quality family time to raise our families…think about it…..

    • abigale Wang

      absolutely correct!

    • Felix

      Christos, I agree with your point that the Europe thrives on being diverse, and we build our democracies and economies on this diversity. However, we cannot rely spending quality time with our families. We need to “work work work” to be able to sustain our current development and lifestyles.

      That’s where I think education is extremely important. I think that in order for Europe to become more competitive academically we should raise teacher salaries to attract more qualified teachers to schools, and also provide more financial support to students who want to study. I also strongly support the platform idea, competition is known to spur development!

      P.S. Being Swedish I take offence to your generalization. You make it sound as if we’re suicide prone beasts that do nothing but work.

      P.P.S. Judging by your name you’re from Southern Europe, and last time I checked it was the hard working “machines” from Germany, Sweden, etc. that are the ones bailing you out since you seem unable to cope without us and our work… (true story)

  6. Claudia Galliano-gourraud

    of course: great European research and education. much more education programs between all the European countries: create a real European TV with EVERY language everyday of the week, for children and adults.

  7. Elena - AIESEC Ethiopia

    I see AIESEC model of local centres competing among themselves and at the end creating development for the all organization working because of 2 main factors:
    1) Common Vision, Mission, Values agreed and shared by the all members of the organizations [university students] and by the all stakeholders involved in the organization programmes
    2) The core of the organization is promoting international opportunities, meaning at least 2 entities should be involved in the programmes delivery.
    From this very simple analysis I would like to underline some critical factors who I believe could significantly contribute to increase the level of European Education compared to the US and China’s one:
    a) UE is already a platform, created on common values and pillars and all the member countries have faced common historical events in the last 2000 years. What we miss is a real feeling of UE citizenship, which could be better created by focusing more primary education classes on UE history, basis, elements explanation. If every child in Europe would feel to be European citizen thanks to its nationality, probably would be much easier to have European Citizen Leaders, European Entrepreneurs, European Schools. Why not to involve European university Students in a UE Program to empower them to go in at least another UE country for 6 weeks to deliver class presenting their country, their culture to children and teenagers?
    b) Erasmus Program has already created a huge impact in European University Education, but many universities in UE still miss real international exposure due to the localization of the Professors. I think UE Leaders and Academic should open a table to discuss new ways of internationalize universities not just through student mobility but also by teachers mobility and by involving university students in programs inside UE universities
    c) Excellence is coming from Meritocracy. I believe UE should not invest in opening University education to 100% of student population in UE, but should rather focus on making sure that the best profiles of students around Europe could actually access better opportunities getting financial support for that. I believe Excellence in UE cannot come from closed excellence center but from OPEN EXCELLENCE NETWORKs involving different Universities and Research Center around Europe to empower best students mobility and capitalizing more on virtual and distant education.

  8. peter schellinck

    Rather then being afraid we should probably consider to reorganise our entire education system in such a way that students leave the education cycle with a job and a degree. So, what is more important: a job or a degree? I would say give them both at the same time! Hence, the schooling system must be directly linked in a strong, mutually beneficial partnership with the business and industry as well as the politics (government). After all 3 out of the 5 current jobs had no curriculum before as they have emerged from the business and industrial needs as they develop. There is a gap between progress in education and progress in industry, with education losing out. By freeing up the defence budget the EU can easily dedicate 8 to 9% GDP to research and education. The only way to sustain prosperity without growth is by investing in innovation. With it’s strong background and experience Europe can do this and thus remain a global powerhouse in a global environment where specialisation and niches will prevail. We can easily compete with USA, let alone China. One forgets that Europe has some very powerful centres of excellence, such as CERN, SCK•CEN, and many many more. We just don’t seem to market them as well as the US does and now we are starting to get afraid of China. For what actually? At least they taught us how to brew beer. A little bit of European pride would not be misplaced. We just need to better organise and sell our strengths and partner with emerging markets for innovation. Research and education is a global industry or better a global social obligation. Through the existing European institutions a strong European network of competing centres of expertise can be developed to the benefit of the rest of the global partners, whether it’s China, Brazil, etc. We seem to be more afraid of ourselves because we’ve lost sense of direction.

  9. Jen

    Of course Europe could do it in an instance! Not with the opportunities (as the education system is government funded) but with their benchmarks, absolutely! Having had a European Education, i was shocked to then do in College what I was expected to do in 9th grade in Europe!

  10. Christos Mouzeviris

    My dear Felix I did not mean that all we must be doing is sit at home and look after our families…Greeks work a lot, harder than other EU citizens…In Greece they do not give you social welfare for life like they do in Belgium for example…Have you ever wondered where does Belgium gets all this money to be able to sustain it citizens for life? In Greece after a couple of years unemployed, that’s it..you are on your own…So is more lazy? a Belgian that can have social welfare for life, or a Greek that must work otherwise he has no income?
    It is a fine balance..Some countries are so rich that can provide their citizens social welfare for life…for some countries to be so rich though, some other countries must be so poor…do you get me now? where on earth does Belgium find money to sustain such generous social welfare? what does it produce? just a few thoughts…

    As about the money coming from the rich north. I am sorry but you ought us these money. While Greece and other parts of Europe like France, Poland and Serbia were fighting hard to stop the Nazis taking over Europe, Sweden was cooperating with them and trading with them its steal.. And it remained neutral..if we all have followed Sweden’s example we would be all speaking German by now..The Germans took Denmark with bicycles. Thank God the Norwegians put up some fight up there.
    While Greece was forced to take a loan for the Nazis under their occupation,that was never repaid by Germany. Greece’s economy never recovered after WW2..Why? not only the Germans pillaged our country, then we had the British using our gold to support the Greek civil war. Because they wanted Greece to remain under the West’s sphere of influence.. Thus Greece not only had to endure two world wars, plus a civil war and then a junta supported again by the USA (and of course the rest of the west)…

    from all the above what do you think? who owns who more? Greece to Europe, or Europe to Greece? Study some history please. Greece is European protectorate since we got freedom from the Ottomans. Europeans have been using our country for decades to promote their interests, at our expense. Even now we are called upon to shut up and pay to save the euro..It would be easier for us to default, scrap the euro and stand up again on our feet.But Europe does not let us. Who is benefiting more from the euro and the EU? Germany and the rich nations. The euro is designed after the German economic model, and EU is favoring greatly the rich nations of Europe, since they have cheap access to raw materials from the southern and eastern countries…So you either allow us to become as rich as you, or you will keep having to pay for us until you realize that you can not have it all..Germany wants the euro because it suits them, but they do not want to lose their AAA rating and share the debt..or go ahead with the eurobonds…so they are forcing Greece to go through hard austerity measures, that the German public themselves would not accept..if that’s they way they want to play ball…I say LET THEM PAY…Germany, Sweden and whoever else is with them…Ok my love?

    • Tory

      Wow; I am an American and this a real-life example of what I have just been studying at school. American higher education is widely considered the best in the world, and I would agree, but that is due to circumstances that are difficult to recreate elsewhere. The United States does not care if individuals must finance their own educations and prioritizes theory and research: here vocational education is generally worthless and looked down upon.

      But the unpleasant downsides of US competition include that university-educated citizens often take jobs that don’t utilize their skills and poorer students end up with large amounts of debt. Education can be the best experience in the US, but it can also, perhaps, be the most harmful.

  11. Christos Mouzeviris

    sorry a few mistakes above….where i say you ought us this money , put you owe us….in the heat of the moment… ;o)

  12. Drew

    I completed a Master’s degree in Europe after a Bachelor’s in the US. My experience was that Europeans generally learn more in high school. American high school education is deplorable. However, after four years at university, US graduates with Bachelor’s degrees have not only caught up to but in many cases surpassed their European counterparts.

    US studies involve more discussion, more interaction with professors, and more bonding with the student community. When compared to US students, European university students generally tend to live away from campus (often with parents), interact rarely with their peers, and passively consume the material from faculty. I quickly learned that a lively classroom discussion was not welcome, even at the Master’s level. I learned a lot and had a great experience doing it, but the academic exchange with my peer group and in-class banter with the professors left a lot to be desired.

    This is not to say, however, that I don’t have a high degree of respect for the European approach. Quite the opposite. In many ways, the EU system is more integrated than the US system. An American from Virginia pays a higher rate (nearly double) than a Californian at a California public university. In the EU, a German pays the same rate as a Dane at a Danish university. I prefer the EU common market approach. And, of course, US schools have become so expensive that major social equality issues need to be raised. At many US research universities, the tuition fees of undergraduates funds a large portion of the post graduate (Master’s and PhD) research. This is simply unfair. State funding follows suit: Every state can see the value in having a large, high prestige PhD programmes, but few see the value of making sure undergraduate education is affordable for all. European schools ought to consider the more interactive approach of the US, but shouldn’t consider allowing school tuition to rise anywhere near the level one finds in the US, even if it means better funding for research. Whatever reforms you decide to make, keep the university affordable so that the majority of the population can achieve degree is good for both the economy and democracy.

  13. brutus

    The trend for market for HIGHER EDUCATION in europe has depleeted the quality of students. A higher education degree is now regarded as «an investment»: you take any kid, you add a university degree and you have an MBA or a PhD. All you need is to add water. It’s like adding water to a powder to get mashed patatoes. Education is either just that or more than that.

    Education is also a way «to order» society, to fill in the ranks of a social hierarchy with real people, with real limitations, real talents and real competence; or the lack of it. This can be done by a number of criteria, and money is one of them. A «market for higher education» means that «money» is the basis of access to higher education and higher decision-making roles within society. It also means that «knowledge», «competence», «creativity», «talent», «skills» become LESS IMPORTANT than money as a selection criteria. Hence the Costa Concordia disaster.

    The Costa Concordia disaster shows that some people just can’t full some positions. Mr. Schettino, which may very well be a cheerfull fellow and a charming host, should never be a ship captain. Some people just can’t cut it. A «market for higher education» allows for anyone with enough money for tuition to become a captain of a ship.. a copany.. a country. Is this the way for COMPETITIVITY?

    It may be the way to «competitivity» of universities.. but is this form of money-based social organization the best way to enhance competitivity in society as a whole?

  14. Rui Miguel Ganhão Miranda Duarte

    If «we» feel the need to compete with «them», them we have already lost leadership. In that event, you should suspect YOU have been doing something wrong…

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