EAIE speaks with European Commissioner Navracsics (part two)

EAIE speaks with European Commissioner Navracsics (part two)

In our last post we shared some of the EAIE’s recent interview with Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, in which he spoke about competitiveness and Erasmus+. In this second post, Commissioner Navracsics shares his insights into using partnerships as a tool to stay competitive and what the EAIE can do to help internationalisation move forward. More of the interview will be featured in the spring issue of EAIE Forum magazine, coming out soon.

You said in your introductory statement to the European Parliament on 1 October 2014 that the European Commission will use all of its tools to help our universities build a new relationship with wider society, and that you want to convert the knowledge triangle – between education, research and business – into a true partnership. How do you plan to achieve this?

TN: Increasing and sustaining cooperation between higher education institutions and other sectors of education, the labour market and public authorities is one of the main principles of the EU’s agenda to modernise higher education.

For example, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions are focused on bridging business and research by funding researchers to move outside or back to academia. Half of the €6.16 billion programme is dedicated to universities and research centres working with other organisations on joint research projects. Within so-called ‘Innovative Training Networks’, new researchers work in settings both within and beyond academia, in order to open the business sector as a possible career path upon completion of their PhD.  In ‘Research Innovation Staff Exchanges’, universities and research institutions exchange staff over a short period with companies or other entities from the non-academic sector (such as museums, NGOs or hospitals). The objective is to support research conducted jointly between a variety of organisations in different countries, through people-to-people exchange. For institutions, it also offers the opportunity to build a network and develop lasting relationships with the business sector in particular.

Another flagship example is the European Institute for Innovation and Technology, the EIT, which brings together higher education institutions, research centres and businesses to work in integrated ‘Knowledge Innovation Communities’, or KICs. Spread across Member States, these are highly integrated, autonomous partnerships, working on long-term strategic challenges such as climate change, sustainable energy, raw materials or healthy living.

And universities themselves need to change to adapt to the increasingly competitive global environment. For instance, they should become more entrepreneurial themselves. In 2013 the Commission, in partnership with the OECD, launched HEInnovate, a self-assessment tool for universities and colleges looking for guidance and inspiration to help them develop or improve their entrepreneurial capabilities. Since its launch, the tool has been used by more than 600 institutions worldwide and continues to be developed to meet increased interest and demand.

Erasmus+, the EU’s main funding instrument for education, training, youth and sport – with a total budget of €14.7 billion for 2014-2020 – also encourages the integration of the knowledge triangle through a number of initiatives. It places a strong emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship through transnational exchanges, as well as vital institutional partnerships and knowledge exchange between academia and business. Erasmus+ is about much more than mobility. Cooperation for innovation and good practice and support for policy reform are key actions which encourage and support knowledge exchange between educational bodies and the employment and research sector. And they give a boost to making higher education more focused on innovation and entrepreneurial practice.

These actions provide support to higher education institutions wanting to implement reforms together with peers or companies, for instance. This support can take various forms, such as helping institutions develop innovative curricula or enabling students to work in international teams on projects of interest to companies.

What role do you see for an association such as the EAIE in developing the internationalisation of higher education in Europe?

TN: Associations such as the EAIE, the European University Association (EUA), the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA) or the International Association of Universities (IAU) are essential partners for the European Commission in making higher education in Europe more international. Associations like these complement the Commission’s work in a number of areas.

For instance, following the EAIE Barometer’s online survey in 2014, we are looking forward to national and European analysis of internationalisation which will be very useful for both practitioners and policy makers. We also encourage the EAIE’s involvement in capacity building and policy support projects on internationalisation, building on their previous experience.

Organisations like the EAIE are also able to spread best practice through their comprehensive training programmes and help higher education stakeholders in Europe to develop and improve their individual strategies for internationalisation. Outreach is another example: whether it is facilitating dialogue on policy with stakeholders from around the world at its annual conference or encouraging capacity building via partnerships with African associations of higher education, the EAIE’s efforts contribute directly to developing the internationalisation landscape in Europe.