Commissioner Ján Figel’: Inauguration of the New Academic Year at Wroclaw University of Technology

October 5, 2005

Wroclaw, 4 October 2005

Rector Tadeusz Luty,

Distinguished professors,

Dear students,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to speak to you today, as you celebrate the official inauguration of the new academic year and commemorate the 60th anniversary of the foundation of this magnificent university. Thank you for your kind invitation to join you on this occasion.

These are testing times for Europe and its process of integration. After the French and Dutch referenda on the Constitutional Treaty, many of Europe’s leaders have called for a pause for reflection.

In July, seven presidents, including Aleksander Kwasniewski, signed a common declaration “United for Europe,” in which they outlined their plan to put Europe back on track.

They called for the following priorities: encouraging citizens to express themselves on the European issues; acting for closer cooperation in the security and justice; showing more solidarity; and investing in innovation, communication, education and research.

Today, I would like to expand on this last point.

Universities have much to contribute as we seek new ways of reinvigorating our common European project. It is here that events are analysed and innovative ideas are born. It is from here that the future leaders and citizens of Europe emerge.

The WrocÅ'aw University of Technology takes pride in shaping creative and critical personalities and in charting new directions for the development of science and technology.

I trust that this university and the wider academic constituencies throughout Poland will fulfil their broader responsibility to advance the prosperity of our enlarged Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me now share with you my views on the future of Europe’s universities. I would like to consider two questions:

• What universities can do to help us lead Europe into the knowledge era;

• What we can do to allow universities to release their full potential.

What links these two issues together is the belief that learning, research and innovation are fundamental for the future of our economies and societies.

The Barroso Commission brought knowledge, research and education into the limelight. Within the EU, we are now charting a new vision for higher education. Previously, our action focused on mobility; today, the emphasis is on structural change and reforms both at national and institutional level.

While education reforms and funding are primarily national tasks, the European Commission can do a lot to draw attention to the main challenges and their possible solutions.

Europe’s universities are now facing formidable challenges and ever–growing global competition. We need to regain our leadership in terms of world–class research and of access to higher education.

These are some of the challenges that affect Europe’s higher education:

• fragmentation into many different systems and sub-systems,

• relative insulation from market needs,

• insufficient flexibility in several respects,

• over–regulation in a number of countries, and

• serious under–funding in comparison with our major competitors.

We need far–reaching reforms that would enable European universities to meet the challenges of the knowledge society and of globalisation.

The modernisation agenda follows two complementary, Europe-wide lines:

  • the intergovernmental Bologna process and
  • the education and training strand of the Lisbon Strategy.
The Bologna process keeps moving ahead. Although the Bologna Process is intergovernmental – including the Commission - its agenda for structural change is fully aligned with the Lisbon Strategy. In higher education, Bologna and Lisbon are not only complementary: they actually support and reinforce each other.

The Commission’s view on the modernisation agenda of higher education has been set out in the Communication “Mobilising the brainpower of Europe”, which was adopted in April.

Our agenda for reform and modernisation calls for a mix of university initiative, national measures and European support in three broad areas: attractiveness, governance, and funding.

Firstly, what do we mean by attractiveness? Our universities should regain their position as centres that can attract the best intellectuals, scientists and students from around the world.

We can achieve this by getting degrees recognised across Europe and beyond and by making course offer more relevant to the job market. Further differentiation in curricula and in the teaching and learning process will open new possibilities for students from less traditional backgrounds and should at the same time encourage the emergence of excellence.

Secondly, we should reconsider the rules that work against modernisation and efficiency to improve governance.

The Commission calls for a new type of partnership. Universities should take charge of their programmes, resources and outcomes, while public authorities would be responsible for the orientation of the higher–education system as a whole.

Finally, Europe’s universities need higher and more efficient funding. In particular, Member States should stimulate private funding and ensure that fair access for all deserving students is guaranteed.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me now turn more specifically to the question of excellence. Excellence needs not be restricted to a few institutions; instead it can be spread among many universities specialised in different areas of research, innovation, teaching, lifelong learning, etc.

If we identify and sustain such networks of excellence, we will enable universities to naturally diversify and to stand out in what they are best at.

Clearly, excellence can thrive in a culture of quality that allows talents of different sorts to develop.

In this connection, let me mention the proposal to establish a European Institute of Technology—or EIT.

We will pursue this idea only if it serves to bring together the best brains and the best companies in a world–class environment with a distinctively European character.

As President Barroso has noted, the EIT is “not an attempt to reinvent the wheel”. Rather than creating a brand–new institution from scratch, it may be more effective to set up a network drawing on existing institutions. Even so, it will still need a distinctive identity in order for its excellence to be recognised by the academic and business communities in Europe and throughout the world.

The Commission services launched a public consultation via the Internet in mid-September. We would like to hear your views on whether and how to create the EIT. There is time; the consultation is open until the 15th of November.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Because yours is a university of technology, I would like to add some points on science, technology and innovation.

As you know, the 7th Framework programme is in preparation. It will pay more attention than ever before to university–based research and innovation. A new Communication on this topic will be adopted by the Commission later this autumn.

I am convinced that engineering and technology centres of learning will rise to the double challenge: they will integrate better across Europe and they will become more attractive in the world.

Internally, we need better cross recognition of degrees at all levels, especially in these areas. This requires quality assurance within universities and cooperation between national quality–assurance agencies.

But there is a more specific challenge: we cannot afford that the recognition of engineering and technology qualifications is sometimes more difficult within the EU than amongst the countries linked by the so-called “Washington Accord”.

There is a pilot scheme for a European system of quality assurance in engineering that is being developed with support of the Commission. It is called EUR–ACE and is being carried out by leading educational and professional associations active in engineering at the European level.

I believe European universities of technology should get involved in this project and actively support it.

With regard to international mobility, I would like to see European universities of technology set themselves an ambitious goal: to balance the flow of students, scholars and researchers across the Atlantic by the end of 2010.

Currently, many more people move from Europe to the US than in the opposite direction. We will know that our reforms are working when we see that more postgraduate and doctoral students, as well as post–docs and experienced teachers from the US come to work in Europe.

If this happens, we would be better prepared for the future challenges linked to the emergence of such countries like China and other Asian nations.

Our hopes for the future of our Union do not lie only with universities, of course. The enlargement of May 2004 gave Europe new momentum and new possibilities. Fresh blood brings new ideas and new energy.

Speaking as a national of Slovakia, I do not need to elaborate on the fact that adjustments to an enlarged European Union have brought challenges for all Member States—old and new.

A certain level of public scepticism combined with growing economic gaps is common in this post–enlargement period.

However, Poland is the largest new member of the Union; as such it also has the greatest responsibility to infuse a new sense of purpose into our reunited Europe.

The WrocÅ'aw University of Technology and the other higher education institutions in Poland have a lot to contribute to this. Europe needs your energy, your enthusiasm, your imagination.

Universities are crucial for future growth and jobs, but that is not enough. Future generations of European citizens will come from our universities and it should be a priority everywhere to enable them to deliver their full potential.

But, ultimately, universities are crucial for bringing our process of integration beyond the economy and into a union of values, ideals, and common political objectives.

Thank you.

Item source: SPEECH/05/572 Date: 04/10/2005 Previous Item Back to Titles Print Item

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