20 mei 2022

Young and old agree the future of European welfare is linked to investments and cooperation in knowledge

Joep Bresser

Joep Bresser


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The future of European welfare and our common values and freedoms is linked to investments and international cooperation in education, research & innovation. This was the common ground in the contributions of the different speakers during a symposium organised by Neth-ER & the Ministry of Education, Science & Culture.  Highlights of the event included a keynote speech by minister Robbert Dijkgraaf, who took office just a few months ago. Other contributions came from young students, researchers and innovators sharing their views on Europe’s future and Henne Schuwer, president of Neth-ER.

Young and old agree the future of European welfare is linked to investments and cooperation in knowledge

The future of European knowledge cooperation

On 18 May, Neth-ER, in cooperation with the Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, welcomed the Dutch and European knowledge community in Brussels for a symposium on the future of European cooperation in education, research & innovation. The closure of the Conference on the Future of Europe provided a special opportunity to gather high-level Dutch and European stakeholders in the fields of education, research and innovation. Robbert Dijkgraaf, the new Dutch Minister of Education, Culture & Science delivered a keynote speech. Prior to his speech Henne Schuwer, president of Neth-ER, took the floor for a welcoming speech followed by young students, researchers and innovators, who shared their experiences, expectations and perspectives on the future of Europe.

Our union of values & freedoms is worth preserving

In his opening speech, Henne Schuwer referred to the theme of the symposium, which was carefully picked and in line with Neth-ER's contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe. These messages only became more important in view of recent events, including Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine. Schuwer illustrated with examples of the latest state-of-the-art innovations in defence technologies and vaccine development that knowledge plays a key role in Europe’s defence against visible and non-visible threats. Building our knowledge base under the principles of excellence and impact is thus a necessary precondition for geopolitical leverage and guaranteeing the well-being of our citizens. Recent developments clearly show Europe’s values and freedoms are worth preserving. Education plays a key role to reassert these values and equip the new generation with skills to contribute and participate in society. However, these efforts are not free and this is why Schuwer called on both the EU and the new Minister Dijkgraaf to commit to the 3% Lisbon norm for investments in research & innovation.

European Education Area is far from finished

Next up five young students, researchers and innovators shared their views on the role of knowledge in the future of Europe. Milan Safy, 18-year-old board member of vocational student representation JOB MBO, kicked off and stressed that an international perspective is important for vocational education students. He expressed hope for more internship options abroad, the inclusion of level 1 and 2 students in mobility and making bilingual vocational education more accessible. Thomas van der Meer, a board member of ISO, reminded us that the current generation of higher education students is the first to live in a borderless EU. However, barriers remain as the European Higher Education Area is not finished yet, highlighting the need for extra efforts taking forward the recognition of diplomas and the European Student Card. “If we take the next step towards integration of European higher education today, together, in 20 years the free movement of students will be as natural as Schengen today.”

Young researchers call for a new career balance

Neth-ER also invited young researchers and innovators to share their perspectives. Meaghan Polack, representing PhD-students as chair of the Promovendi Netwerk Nederland, stated we have to find balance in all activities a PhD engages in, from education and research to activities abroad. She hopes Robbert Dijkgraaf will play a key role in promoting a renewed recognition & reward system both in the Netherlands and at the EU level. Nanna Hilton, member of the Young Academy of the Netherlands, linked the future of European welfare to investments in knowledge and innovation, but also shared a critical note on the research community: more work is needed on reducing the carbon footprint of the research community, and more attention needs to be diverted to diversity & inclusion and enabling appropriate career paths for young scholars. She also underlined the need to promote recognition & rewards abroad. Last to share his vision was Daniel Mann, a senior scientist at TNO, stating innovation depends on appropriate regulation. Developing and applying new innovations is only possible if you create the regulatory sandboxes that allow experiments and adopt regulations that facilitate application in society.

History shows European cooperation in knowledge is in our nature

Last to take the stage was Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf for his first speech in Brussels in his new role, announcing his vision of the future of Europe. Before looking into the future, however, he took the audience all the way back to 1608 and the development of the telescope, when researchers from different countries inspired each other and collaborated across borders. The fundament laid back then by EU scientists has led to the first-ever image of a Black Hole centuries later in 2019, through Europe’s ever stronger and vibrant ecosystem of collaboration and cooperation. Dijkgraaf sees Europe as a role model in the world for cultivating talent through our excellent fertile education grounds and is excited we keep improving the quality through more and more cooperation and exchanges of students & researchers.

Back to the future

Looking to the future, Robbert Dijkgraaf, reacted to the firm call of Schuwer to raise Dutch investments in R&D. He thinks the Netherlands can reach a spending of 2.5% of GDP on R&D in the next years, but also reserved some judgement stating it will remain a challenge. He knows one thing is certain though: if Europe wants to preserve its role as a knowledge continent, we need to continue doing frontier research and preserve our openness between member states to lift each other to a higher level without being naïve to threats. Dijkgraaf calls on cherishing and stimulating our European ecosystem. To end his intervention he referred to a question he received during question hour for children in the Dutch Parliament: “Can you also go to university if you are poor?” His answer is: Yes, of course, and we should ensure this remains the case.