Figel calls for change in attitude towards entrepreneurship in Europe

September 12, 2006

Brussels, 11 Sep 2006

'Europe needs to do more to encourage people to become entrepreneurs,' Ján Figel, European Commissioner in charge of Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism told participants at a European summit on entrepreneurship in education on 6 September in Brussels. The Commissioner said that while entrepreneurship is key to achieving the Lisbon objectives of boosting growth and employment, it was not being fully exploited among students, the EU workforce and those who are looking for employment. He referred to recent surveys which indicate that 60% of EU citizens have never considered setting up a business, and 50% agree with the statement 'one should not start a business if there is a risk of failure'.

'These figures reflect an attitude that needs to be changed. In the US, by comparison, the proportion of risk-averse people falls from one half to only one third. Business folklore in America suggests that you will not be taken seriously if you have not seen the whole story: started a business, fought for it, gone bankrupt and started all over again,' said Mr Figel.

For this to change, the spirit of entrepreneurship has to be instilled in the population as early as possible, said the Commissioner. He welcomed practical activities already under way in Member States to promote the teaching of entrepreneurship in schools and universities. Activities such as starting school-based enterprises or mini-companies were helping to raise students' awareness of self-employment as real options. Students who have taken part in mini-companies exercises are four times more likely to create their own company than the others, said the Commissioner.

However, despite a broad consensus on the need to improve entrepreneurship through hands-on experience, Mr Figel said that there was a certain inertia when it comes to national educational authorities implementing entrepreneurship programmes. As a consequence, many European students are denied the opportunity. 'It is therefore crucial to offer schools support and incentives to encourage the take-up of entrepreneurship activities and programmes,' said Mr Figel.

The European Commission's Recommendation, 'Key Competences for Lifelong Learning' aims to support Member States in developing a more systematic strategy to lifelong learning, based on examples of good practice in Europe.. Entrepreneurship is one of eight key competences, in addition to basic skills such as literacy and numeracy, which should be developed by the end of initial education and training.

Another Communication, 'Fostering entrepreneurial mindsets through education and learning' also stresses the need for actions to promote entrepreneurship as a competence which has benefits for all. The communication provides examples of how entrepreneurship can be integrated into the curricula of primary and secondary education, as well as higher and adult education. 'These documents intend to promote reform in the Member States.' said Mr Figel. 'We believe that Europe's education and training systems need to shift the emphasis towards more practical and learner-centred approaches to learning.'

In addition to these documents, Commissioner Figel pointed to the proposed European Institute of Technology (EIT), which he said would help to equip students and researchers with the entrepreneurial skills to work in industry or start their own business. The proposed EIT aims to improve Europe's' capacity for scientific education, research and innovation by pooling the effort of universities, research centres and companies across Europe.

A culture of entrepreneurship was listed as critical for European growth in the blueprint for European economic growth 'Creating an Innovative Europe' written by the expert group report, chaired by former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho in early 2006.

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