Are universities contributing to the economic development of Europe?

by Paloma Cantero Gómez. 

The role of universities as the most remarkable provider of knowledge and skills has to be able to adjust to the needs of a flexible and fast-changing reality.

There is a current mismatch between the educational system and the labor market. Schools and universities are producing standardised individuals with standardised sets of skills that are not useful to the labor market. In the 21st century, the labor market needs unique, creative and innovative individuals educated to think outside the box who are able to expand their horizons and think differently. With universities still mirrored as pure-knowledge producers and providers, we are lacking a holistic and practical approach to education adjusted to the real needs of the next production revolution.

Moreover, there is currently an increasing acceptance that an economic narrative is not sufficient when measuring growth. There is thus a need for a redefinition of the growth narrative which puts “well-being” at the core center of new growth frameworks.

The OECD is aware of this fact and is committed to defining a new learning framework for 2030. When defining this framework the OECD, through its Informal Working Group on Education and Skills, presents resilience, innovation & sustainability as the basic “must haves” of the new learner with IQ becoming an important part of the classroom curriculum. With education having proven to be the core of innovation and growth, students should be prepared to work with new narratives and innovations for the creation of new demand, jobs, products, services, tools, processes and ways of thinking and living with full sense and deep meaning.

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At the same time young people should be empowered to take responsibility. Proactivity and action should always be accompanied with ethics and a sense of responsibility, as well as moral and intellectual maturity.

This new educational system should not be rooted in the current one. Starting from the scratch, it should embrace new disruptive methodologies, approaches and angles. It should fully prepare the student for understanding the world around them by applying concepts to the creation of solutions and innovation.

This new framework for education requires a mandatory update of universities and higher education in which multi-partnerships are able to ensure innovation and growth. To ensure a proper adjustment of universities to the labor market “we need a person-center approach [...] partnerships between professors and businesses, supportive legislation and knowledge transfer on the innovation ecosystem” said Ms. Lidia Borrell-Damián, Director of Research and Innovation at the European University Association at the European Business Summit 2017. “Dedicate, develop and date” were also the three basic “Ds” which were presented by Mr. Alfredo Soeiro, Professor at the University of Porto, as key elements for a successful partnership between universities and business.

The European Delegation to the G7 Youth Summit recognised the importance of this approach and are aware of the importance of bringing together higher education and business as the only way to properly train the youth on the real skills demanded by the labor market. Last May, they presented the introductions of a dual system of higher education as a concrete measure to walk the path forward to the leaders of the G7 countries.

In a time of digitalization, new production revolution, individual empowerment, the advent of artificial intelligence and accelerated globalisation, universities need to rethink their current way of doing and innovate in methodology, provided skills and knowledge and general structure in order to effectively become the catalyst for an inclusive, open and sustainable growth.

Read more from YEL’s delegation to the European Business Summit 2017 here.

Paloma Cantero Gómez is a YEL delegate to the 2017 European Business Summit. Paloma is an expert in international relations, holding a double bachelor degree in law and journalist. She was nominated to the 2017 Forbes list of 30under30 influential leaders on policy and law. She is passionate about leadership and entrepreneurship she has launched several projects related to education, youth, social movements, human rights and fashion.