Europe 2020: what are the implications of Europe’s new economic strategy for global higher ed & research?

This week marks the launch of the EU’s EUROPE 2020: A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. As noted in EurActiv (‘Brussels unveils 2020 economic roadmap for Europe‘) on 3 March:

The EU’s new strategy for sustainable growth and jobs, called ‘Europe 2020’, comes in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades. The new strategy replaces the Lisbon Agenda, adopted in 2000, which largely failed to turn the EU into “the world’s most dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010”. The new agenda puts innovation and green growth at the heart of its blueprint for competitiveness and proposes tighter monitoring of national reform programmes, one of the greatest weaknesses of the Lisbon Strategy.

The European Commission’s plan includes a variety of agenda items (framed as thematic priorities and targets) that arguably have significant implications for European higher education and research. Furthermore several of the plan’s Flagship Initiatives (“Innovation Union”; “Youth on the Move”; “A Digital Agenda for Europe”; “An industrial policy for the globalisation era”; “An Agenda for new skills and jobs”) also have implications for how the EU frames and implements its agenda regarding the global dimensions of both the European Research Area (ERA) and the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). For example, Flagship initiative: “Youth on the move” (p. 11) includes the following statement:

The aim is to enhance the performance and international attractiveness of Europe’s higher education institutions and raise the overall quality of all levels of education and training in the EU, combining both excellence and equity, by promoting student mobility and trainees’ mobility, and improve the employment situation of young people.

At EU level, the Commission will work:
– To integrate and enhance the EU’s mobility, university and researchers’ programmes (such as Erasmus, Erasmus Mundus, Tempus and Marie Curie) and link them up with national programmes and resources;
– To step up the modernisation agenda of higher education (curricula, governance and financing) including by benchmarking university performance and educational outcomes in a global context.

Please see below for a summary of some of the key elements of EUROPE 2020: A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth as well as a YouTube video of José Manuel Barroso’s launch of the plan at a media event in Brussels:

See here for the EU’s Press pack: Europe 2020 – a new economic strategy. EurActiv also has a useful LinksDossier (‘Europe 2020’: Green growth and jobs?) for those of you seeking a concise summary of the build-up to the new 2020 plan.

It is also worth noting that EU member states, and as well as non-governmental organizations, are attempting to push their own innovation agendas in the light of the 2020 economic roadmap for Europe. Link here, for example, to a Lisbon Council e-brief (Wikinomics and the Era of Openness: European Innovation at a Crossroads) that is being released today in Brussels. European Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn also spoke at the same event.

The ‘innovation’ agenda and discourse is deeply intertwined with higher education and research policy in Europe at the moment. While the outcome of this agenda has yet to be determined, supporters and critics alike are being forced to engage with this amorphous concept; a 21st century ‘keyword’ notably absent from Raymond Williams’ classic text Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society.

Kris Olds

Is 2008 a watershed for Europe’s ‘Lisbon Agenda’?

It’s all really good news for the EC, according to the report European Growth and Jobs Monitor: Indicators of Success in the Knowledge Economy 2008 released today by Allianz SE, one of Europe’s leading financial service providers and the Brussels-based think tank The Lisbon Council. Indeed the report goes on to claim that 2008 marks a watershed for Europe (see our earlier report on the EC’s assessment of Lisbon in 2007). When some parts of the world are reeling from more and more bad news stories about economic slow-downs and rising debt, this claim surely needs to be looked at more closely.

According to Allianz SE, despite earlier set backs and significant policy reorientations and renovations (see Kok Review 2004) as a consequence since 2005, the Lisbon strategy is now believed to be achieving its goals.

The report notes:

…at the time of writing, Europe outpaces the United States in economic growth. And, for the first time in more than 10 years, productivity is growing faster on a quarterly average basis than in the US – an intriguing trend which, if it proves sustainable, could signal a real turning point in Europe’s decade long effort to establish itself as truly “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world”, as the original Lisbon Agenda proposed. In other words… …Lisbon is working.

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However as Financial Times reporter, Tony Barber, notes:

It sounds almost too good to be true. The report’s tone would certainly surprise many political leaders and businessmen in the US and Asia, where Europe is often portrayed as a continent in relative economic decline. In fact, when you read the Lisbon Council report in full, you begin to suspect that its real message is that the European economy, though strong in many respects, has obvious weaknesses as well. For example, on research and development spending, there has been “limited progress” and “most countries have a lot of catching up to do”.

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Looked at more closely, it is clear this up-beat report hides what might be regarded as more disturbing facts.

For instance, spending on R&D, one of the big targets for Europe in realizing a knowledge-based economy, is still a long way off target. Add to this that a number of education systems in Europe are also off target with high-drop out rates of young learners whilst in countries like Germany only about one-fifth of 15-year-olds plan to go on to university and the picture becomes less rosy.

Leaving aside for the moment the contentious matter of whether greater levels of participation in higher education automatically lead to a knowledge-based economy, it is evident that there are several ways of reading this ‘good news’.

As we can see from the table of current ranking and one year ago, it is not so much a question of Lisbon now being realised–if we view this as a regional strategy, but some economies across Europe currently performing much stronger than others.

In other words, we are seeing the effects of the strong performance of some countries (Denmark, Finland, Ireland and Sweden) and the weak performance of others, especially Italy.

What is certain from the report is that higher education will continue to be a center piece of European policy and that the 2007 agenda – to keep up the pace of change – is likely to continue to ‘shake up’ the sector in continuing radical ways.

Susan Robertson

 

Brainpower famine in Eastern Europe: food for thought

lisboncouncilreport.jpgThe Brussels based think-tank, The Lisbon Council, sees trouble ahead for the countries of both Western and Eastern Europe. The Eastern European low-wage, low-tax, FDI-driven growth rates of today, accelerated by membership of the EU, are not going to last. A combination of low-birth rates and increasing brain drain will combine to fix their economic trajectories at well below the EU average with no prospect of improvement. And that is a problem for Western Europe too: it has been the dynamism of the East which has given a fillip to the West.

In its just issued report, The European Human Capital Index: The Challenge of Central and Eastern Europe, the Lisbon Council claims:

There is a very real risk that in coming decades Central and Eastern Europe could become a sparsely-populated area with a declining workforce that will have to shoulder the burden of a population set to experience unprecedented levels of aging and decline. At stake is nothing less than the long-term sustainability of these remarkable countries, which have added so much to Europe’s history, economy and diversity.

Now, if we look beyond the doom-laden futurology and risk of future collapse which seems to be so much a part of these calls for action, we can begin to see the contradictions in the analysis and the prescriptions. The EU economy is driven by processes of centralization and concentration and we can see this in the movements of knowledge, technology and capital. Universities are heavily implicated in this and the mobility of students and the highly skilled is the brain drain which is going to accelerate the emptying of the East. The extension of service and production commodity chains into the East and the region’s growth as a consumer market has gone hand in hand with their low tax, flexible labor laws and low state spending. In short the growth model is predicated on the very things which the Human Capital Index measures as being lacking.

The Lisbon Council solutions – reformed universities, on the job skills training, investment in knowledge, skills and innovation – require a shift in the growth model and the question is, how to achieve that within the context of macro and micro economic orthodoxy, the EU promotion of mobility and double-think about brain drain. At the time of the formation of the EU single market there was a response – the EU as a whole had to invest in the conditions for more and better jobs and a geographical spread so that capital, technology and knowledge are shifted away from concentration and centralization. The problems and solutions were posed in those terms which of course requires an increased European tax base and a commitment to significantly greater regional re-distribution and planning.

The challenges have always been clear and the solutions filled with all sorts of dilemmas which don’t even get a mention from the Lisbon Council. Human capital mantras suggest that the governments in Eastern Europe need to improve the supply of human capital, invest more in formal education, create their entrepreneurial universities and attract migrant (cheap) labor from the potentially massive new pool of Turkey etc. And so move themselves onto a different growth path. Perhaps.

One thing that is increasingly clear, is that the Economics of Education and the Human Capital theorists, and this report comes straight out of that stable, can offer descriptions based on such measures as its Human Capital Index, but its policy relevance is restricted and amounts to the same old same old. Quite how societies approaching the sorts of collapse envisaged in the report would react and what shibboleths of neo-liberal human capital development models would then be questioned seems to be beyond their remit. A pity.

Peter Jones