China-EU Education Ministers Conference
Vice-Premier Madam LIU Yandong,
Minister of Education Mr CHEN Baosheng,
Ministers of Education, Your Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to address such a distinguished audience here today.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Chinese authorities for organising this event. It is an important step, bridging last year's high level people-to-people dialogue in Brussels and the next one, which will take place in China in 2017. This dialogue has given us a successful framework for our cooperation in education and training. I look forward to developing it further with our Chinese partners.
The theme of today's conference "Building the China-Europe Silk Road of Education" makes a direct link to the ancient network of trade routes between East and West. For centuries, these routes played a central role in the cultural interaction between peoples from China to Europe.
They stand for curiosity and openness, for a desire to discover, learn and understand. It is important that we never forget the significance of these connections and that we strengthen them.
Today's world is complex and full of uncertainty. It can be difficult to find one's place in it. But turning inward is not the answer - in fact, we would all lose.
Staying open and willing to work together, to learn from each other, makes us strong. And education has a central role in this. It opens our minds to new ideas and different points of view. Education helps us to understand each other better and build economic and social progress together.
It is therefore no coincidence that Europe and China have this openness and are developing closer ties by cooperating on education. I would like us to reinforce this work. We have a solid base to build on: proven initiatives that have enabled us to boost academic cooperation, to foster student, teacher and researcher mobility, and to find a common language for the modernisation of our education systems.
Let me give you some examples.
At the top of the list, we have the EU's Erasmus+ programme and the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions under Horizon 2020. The Chinese Scholarship Council and Hanban actions have pursued similar aims on the Chinese side.
Since last year, Erasmus+ has been offering scholarships for short- and long-term mobility to students and staff from all over the world. Nearly 3,000 students and professors have been selected to move between Europe and China under the Erasmus+ calls in 2015 and 2016, and dozens of Chinese universities have participated in joint academic projects.
We know that this kind of learning mobility has a very positive impact. In a recent study, we found that students who spend a period outside their own country develop better transversal skills. They are better at tackling new challenges, making decisions and solving problems. They have more confidence and understand their own strengths and weaknesses better. They are capable of critical thinking and more tolerant towards other people's values and behaviour.
But our work goes well beyond mobility. We also support joint academic projects, and I am pleased to say that dozens of Chinese universities are participating. Just to mention a few examples, Tongji University is involved in a Joint Master Degree on Cinematography together with schools in Ireland, Estonia and Hungary. Nankai University is offering a joint Masters on "Global Markets, Local Creativities". Hohai University is taking part in a Masters on water management coordinated by the University of Nice in France. And Peking University is one of the Chinese partners in a project coordinated by the Free University of Brussels on governance and academic leadership.
Like mobilities, these projects bring our academic communities together - benefiting our societies at large by fostering inquisitive mind-sets and new approaches that help drive innovation, economic growth and social development.
We are also making progress in ensuring our higher education systems are more compatible. Above all, we are doing this through 'China Tuning', a joint project set up to define common academic learning outcomes, thus making it easier for students to have academic credits recognised. This has improved academic relations and helped students to move between China and Europe more easily.
Our cooperation also benefits young people outside academia. Through Erasmus+, Chinese and European youth organisations have been able to develop partnership projects to boost the mobility of youth workers and young people. Since 2012, we have run several seminars together on topics such as youth entrepreneurship, youth mobility and social inclusion. 60 projects funded by Erasmus+ have been organised in China so far, involving some 800 young people and youth workers.
Our Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions under the Horizon 2020 programme are enabling European and Chinese researchers to develop their careers at research institutes, universities, and companies abroad.
And our support for the network of Chinese Jean Monnet Chairs and the activities of the Chinese Jean Monnet Centres of Excellence is enabling Chinese students to learn about European Union integration in Chinese universities. I am pleased to say that we have just awarded funding for three new Jean Monnet activities in Sichuan, Southwest Jiaotong and Hebei universities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our cooperation in education is vital in bringing our peoples closer together. But I am also pleased to see that we are collaborating more closely in other areas. For example, earlier this year, I had the pleasure to launch the Europe-China Culture & Tourism Development Committee with Mr István Ujhelyi, Member of the European Parliament, and with the Ambassador of the Chinese Mission to the EU, Madam Yang Yanyi.
I am convinced that through projects like these between our people and civil societies, ties between the EU and China will become even stronger.
In this context, I would like to underline that civil society can and should play a key role in our cooperation and exchanges in many fields, including education, culture, and direct contacts between people. Many European NGOs have been active in China for a long time and positively contributed to our mutual understanding. We hope that the implementation of the new foreign NGO law, starting next year, will allay concerns about its possible impact.
Before I conclude, let me briefly come back to the ancient roads connecting the EU and China and one critical factor that made them such a success: entrepreneurship.
I am pleased to see that this is one of the topics we will discuss later this morning. I strongly believe that entrepreneurial skills can be taught, and that they should be integrated into educational curricula at all levels.
That is why, together with Member States, I am working to strengthen entrepreneurship education in the EU. I would like every young person to have at least one hands-on entrepreneurial experience before they leave school.
Not only because we need more young people starting their own businesses, contributing to economic growth and job creation. But because entrepreneurial skills benefit all of us, self-employed or not: aptitudes like creativity, flexibility and resilience enable us to stay employable in the long term and to become active, confident citizens.
Fostering entrepreneurial attitudes is an area where European countries and China can learn from each other. We have a great example in the EU: the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. Since 2008, it has been nurturing entrepreneurial talent through its Knowledge and Innovation Communities, or KICs.
These partnerships, made up of universities, research institutes, private companies and entrepreneurs, are developing new products and services, and creating spin-off companies and hundreds of new patents. And they allow higher education, research and the business sector to collaborate in completely new ways.
These consortia are tackling big societal challenges such as climate change, the digital revolution and health. Importantly, the KICs have a strong educational focus, training a new generation of entrepreneurs to solve today's and tomorrow's problems.
Increasingly, the KICs are involving partners from China. For example, the Climate-KIC has started to collaborate with participants from Shanghai, Guiyang and Hong Kong, creating and testing monitoring tools for the transport sector. And the KIC on renewable energy and energy efficiency is planning to install solar technologies demonstrators in China.
This suggests that entrepreneurship education is one area where we will be able to take our cooperation forward and identify new joint projects for the near future.
I would like us to pursue this in the same spirit that has been informing our relationship for so long. With open minds, always looking to explore new ideas and ready to work together.