Figel: Need to educate our youth to compete in tomorrow’s economy
On May 28, GMF hosted Jan Figel, the European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture, and Youth, for a discussion of the challenges and opportunities facing Europe as it works to educate its youth for a changing economic landscape. He was joined by Dr. Allan Goodman, president of the Institute for International Education, who offered a perspective on the future of American higher education.
After an introduction by Marc Leland, co-chair of GMF's Board of Trustees, Mr. Figel began by outlining the European Union's maturation from community of steel and coal interests to a community of people, one which has identified education and training as essential to its future health. While emphasizing that the ultimate responsibility and authority for these areas remain in the hands of nation states, Mr. Figel explained the ways in which the EU is supporting reform efforts. Two specific efforts that he highlighted were the Bologna process and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The former is an effort of the EU to harmonize the continent's higher education system, while allowing individual institutions and national systems to remain autonomous. Noting that learning from one another's effective instruments and practices is "both wise and cheap," Mr. Figel called for more reforms focused on harmonizing levels of education and qualifications across the EU. Along those same lines, he sees the EIT as a space for information sharing, where the "knowledge triangle" - education, innovation and research - are integrated under a light central structure and implemented by a network of "Knowledge and Innovation Communities" (KICs). By focusing on collaboration and drawing on the resources and interests of those involved in education, research, and business, Mr. Figel argues that the Bologna process and the EIT, as well as other efforts by the EU, are improving Europe's overall competitiveness and wellbeing.
Dr. Goodman responded by speaking to the challenges that the United States faces today and calling for its institutions of higher education to increase the emphasis on international study. Specifically, Dr. Goodman addressed the increased international competition in higher education for the past 10 years; the difficulty of integrating American university standards with those of other nations (for example, the Bologna process is moving many European institutions to offer a three year Bachelors degree as opposed to the American model of a four year degree); changing regulations for visas and international mobility post-9/11, which have made the international exchange of students and scholars more difficult; and the curricular content of most American universities, which does not emphasize international study and leaves American workers ill-prepared for working in the global economy.
In a question and answer period with the audience made up of both European and American representatives from the education, business, non-profit, and media sectors, a consensus seemed to emerge that more and better collaboration between and among individuals, institutions and nations in the education field is essential for the citizens of both societies to remain competitive in the changing global economy.