European Union appoints combined education and research supremo

Mariya Gabriel to take on role with increased ‘weight and visibility’

September 10, 2019
European Commission in Brussels
Source: iStock

Control of the European Union’s education and research activities are set to be brought together under a new commissioner, Mariya Gabriel.

Ursula von der Leyen, president-elect of the European Commission, has nominated the Bulgarian conservative to hold a new brief of innovation and youth. This brings together the former commissionerships overseeing research, science and innovation; and education, culture, youth and sport.

Ms Gabriel, currently the commissioner for digital economy and society and a former MEP for Bulgaria’s ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party, will oversee the €100 billion (£89 billion) Horizon Europe research funding programme, the Erasmus+ student exchange scheme, and efforts to make it easier for students to move between universities across a new European Education Area.

Robert-Jan Smits, a former director-general of research and innovation at the European Commission, said that it was “is excellent news that innovation, education and youth are brought together in one portfolio with scale and scope. It will give weight and visibility.”

“The combination of innovation and education in one portfolio makes a lot of sense because the European Education Area and the European Research Area are two sides of the same coin,” said Mr Smits, now president of Eindhoven University of Technology.

He added that the prominence given to the planned European Innovation Council in the mission letter sent by Ms von der Leyen to Ms Gabriel suggested that this initiative – a brainchild of outgoing science commissioner Carlos Moedas, designed to support entrepreneurship and commercialization of research discoveries – “will be taken care of”.

The European Universities Association said that it had “continuously called for a close connection of the areas of research, innovation and education”.

“A commissioner for innovation and youth that can connect the three parts of the knowledge triangle and recognise the strength and importance of the different elements of the triangle is an extremely welcome innovation,” the association said. “For this task, a strong commissioner is needed. EUA welcomes the proposed candidate for this role…and is actively providing questions for the committee hearings in [the European] Parliament in order to ensure that the key policy issues for universities are taken up.”

Ms Gabriel studied at the Paisii Hilendarski University of Plovdiv and the Institute of Political Studies in Bordeaux, where she worked as a teaching and research assistant between 2004 and 2008.

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