European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]
18 November 2014
Tibor Navraciscs - Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport
Brussels, European Voice/The Economist conference "Let's get Europe working: driving a new phase of growth and competitiveness"
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here with you. I would like to thank European Voice for inviting me to speak in my new capacity as European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.
Education makes a vital contribution to boosting economic growth, competitiveness and job creation. Since the launch of Europe 2020, education has become a central part of the EU strategy for growth and jobs.
The Commission encourages Member States to reform their education systems to make education and training more relevant to people's needs, to embrace digital technologies and new ways of teaching and learning. And we are trying to encourage more people to take advantage of EU grants under programmes like Erasmus+ to study or train in another country - reflecting the fact that learning mobility has a proven capacity to boost employability.
My task - within the new Commission and its new structure and working methods - is to ensure that we build on this and strengthen the contribution education makes to growth and jobs.
1/ How education boosts employability and growth
We know that education helps us to rebuild an economy that is fair and aimed at achieving long-term growth; and that it is through education that we will prepare young people for the multicultural, fast-moving world we live in.
The evidence for this is clear: The crisis has taken its biggest toll on people with low qualifications who have lost more jobs than the highly qualified. Over 80% of the highly qualified are in employment, whereas barely 40% of those with low qualifications have a job. This trend will only get worse.
But education is more than a driver for employability; it is a driver for growth and innovation. When workers are highly skilled and trained to think critically and to be creative, they stimulate innovation, they can adapt to more sophisticated methods of production and push up productivity. For a highly developed region like Europe which cannot compete on the basis of low costs, this is important. With an educated workforce, Europe can retain its competitive edge, innovating and producing excellent quality in a cost-efficient way.
2/ The challenge for the years ahead
Next month, education ministers will discuss the "economic case for education" in the Council as we begin the review of the Europe 2020 strategy.
For me, the debate raises two points that I think are particularly important for our future work.
First, let's be frank. Europe's education systems are good - but probably not good enough.
The OECD's PISA survey of the skills of 15-year olds shows that, for example, in mathematics - which is a basic skill of strategic importance for our future - we are not doing so well. Roughly one out of four is a low achiever. We can do better.
Take the education headline targets under Europe 2020. The dual objectives of reducing early school leaving to below 10% and raising the higher education completion rate to 40% have served us well. But Member States still have a lot of work to do. There has been progress, but it is uneven, large discrepancies remain within and between Member States.
That is why Europe has to continue to be ambitious in its efforts to modernise and improve education. At EU-level, we will support this reform agenda through the European Semester and the annual recommendations to EU Member States. But most of the hard work lies with Member States who are responsible for their education systems.
Second, excellent results do not come for free. We must invest in education if we want it to have a positive impact on jobs and growth. The Commission has made this point repeatedly in its Annual Growth Survey when calling for growth-friendly fiscal policies, even as it requires Member States to reduce deficits. Priority must be given to education spending.
However, in practice, most Member States are reducing their education expenditure. In 2012, nineteen Member States cut their education spending in real terms. Fourteen Member States reduced the share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) they devote to education.
At the same time, other regions in the world are catching up quickly and they use education as an area of strategic investment. Brazil, for example, has boosted its spending from 3.9% of GDP in 1999 to 5.8% in 2012. This means that Brazil's investments outrank the EU-average, which amounts to 5.3% of GDP.
Of course, money must be spent wisely, especially in times of tight public finances. We have to achieve better results - for more people - with limited resources without diminishing the quality. This amounts to squaring the circle, you might think, but I firmly believe that it can be done. When I make the case for more education spending, I do not have in mind a blank cheque - what I advocate is more spending on modernised and effective education.
3/ Education in the investment package
Education can and should help us to bring people back into jobs, in particular young people.
Education will help us to dismantle the 29th Member State that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has described as "the country where people have no jobs".
This is why he made it clear that the 300 billion Euro investment package that the Commission will propose soon must include education as a driver for employability and growth. I am working with Vice-President Jyrki Katainen to ensure that the package adequately reflects the contribution that investment in education can make.
Education is part of the solution to many of Europe's economic challenges but also to its social challenges. We have achieved good progress on both fronts. But there is no room for complacency.
General public inquiries: