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Let’s wake up Europe before it’s too late!

Author: Jan Muehlfeit, Chairman of Microsoft Europe

 

Europe’s future is at risk. Future competitive edge, economic empowerment, digital innovation across Europe, as well as the career development opportunities, earnings, and job security of Europe’s next generation are all at risk. Our youth is no longer competing at the national level, and not even at the European Union level. Just like our economy, they are competing on the global scene. The skills and knowledge they gain in our educational system must prepare them to strengthen the competitiveness of our economy while also competing with the best prepared youth in the world. That is why we must prepare our youth with the digital and analytical skills required by the globalized job market. Europe has the potential to be a leader if it unleashes its innovative capabilities and continues to invest in key areas like education, technology and digital services. 

EU’s growth strategy for the future – Europe 2020, has set five ambitious objectives on education, innovation, employment, social inclusion, and climate and energy – to be reached by 2020. These objectives are addressed by seven flagship initiatives that include an agenda for new skills and jobs, youth mobility, and a digital agenda. The multidimensionality of the Europe 2020 strategy reflects the multiple forces that drive economic growth and development, but I believe education and technology to be the two priorities that can drive all other important initiatives of the strategy. As I emphasized this past March at the European Conference at Harvard Kennedy School “Europe 2014 Re-Generation”: in a globalized world, the competition for skilled talent, as well as digital services and big data is fierce. I was honored to give the keynote speech at the conference joined by Esko Aho, VP Nokia and former Prime Minister of Finland. We both agree the importance of technology for the future of Europe. By addressing education and the digital future of Europe, I believe Europe 2020 can decisively take Europe’s economy out of the crisis and send it into a growth streak. However, having a great strategy is not enough, we must also ensure that Europe 2020 is implemented successfully and the objectives are reached. Within each 

flagship initiative and each objective, both the European Union and each Member State have to coordinate their efforts so they are mutuall reinforcing.

In comparative terms, Europe fares very well on social inclusion and environmental sustainability. According to the “Europe 2020 Competitiveness Report” issued by The World Economic Forum in 2012, the EU fares better in building inclusive and sustainable societies than many developed countries including the United States. Furthermore, the EU has a comprehensive winning environmental framework that takes into account essential elements like the share of renewable energy consumption, the enforcement of environmental legislation, the ratification of international environmental treaties and the quality of the natural environment. These are important winning platforms for the European Union. But what about the other five flagship initiatives that drive our strategy towards the year 2020? While progress has been made in terms of the other pillars including education and training as well as the digital agenda, Europe still has room for improvement. Europe 2020 is our strategy that is supposed to march us into a new era of innovation and when compared to key global players, we are currently only winning on two out of our own seven priorities. We have chosen our flagship initiatives and we must now deliver on them when compared to the rest of the world. We must implement our strategy accordingly on all fronts. More investment in education and technology, as well as a refocus on training digital and analytical skills required by business and the future economy could drive Europe’s competitiveness.

The Nordic countries score best in class in terms of national focus on education and training, excellent business environment with a strong culture of entrepreneurship and uptake of latest digital technologies. For example, Sweden holds a top spot in Europe on all of these three important Europe 2020 platforms. Emphasis over the years on driving growth by creating a skilled and innovative workforce has paid off in Sweden, which scores number one on the innovation Europe 2020 flagship initiative, with excellent collaboration between universities and the private sector in research, very sophisticated business techniques and high spending on R&D leading to much innovation output making it to market. With well enforced environmental regulations, Sweden is even ranked first in the environmental sustainability pillar, demonstrating that driving growth through education, entrepreneurship and technology can very well go hand in hand with sustainability and innovation across the board.

Finland is another case in point with a profile similar to that of Sweden. Finland’s business environment fosters entrepreneurship and at the roots of Finland’s economic prowess is decades of strong focus on education. Indeed, Finland occupies the top position in the higher education and training Europe 2020 pillar. Maintaining education a priority in Finland has provided the workforce with the skills needed to adapt rapidly to the changing global economic environment and has laid the groundwork for high levels of technological adoption and innovation. Not surprisingly, Finland is one of the innovation powerhouses of Europe. The long-term focus on education in countries like Finland and Sweden represents a marked difference in Europe. These countries distinguish their economies through the benefits of high adoption of digital technologies and an efficient and well trained market skilled in the competencies required by the business sector. When implementing Europe 2020 education and digital initiatives, we should keep in mind the experience of Finland and Sweden.

Adopting new technologies and teaching digital and analytical skills in the rest of Europe will be key for our competitiveness because technology is advancing very fast. With this advancement comes a big wave of innovation that has changed the world we live in, and will continue to change industries, economies, and even our social cultures. Europe should leverage the enabling change that technology is bringing because big global players are doing so as well. To put the importance of technology in context, ICT (information and communications technology) differs from other industries in a fundamental way. While other industries experience a climactic change then plateau in terms of innovation, ICT keeps advancing at a fast pace, accelerating its rate of change. The capability of the latest technology rapidly enables the development of the next improved technology. For example, the industry started with room size computers for institutions, and evolved to producing mobile gadgets for consumers in only four decades. The seed of this evolution is the scaling down and multiplication of transistors on a chip, driving the computing power. With multiplication of computer power, the size of devices actually decreased. Moore’s Law has often been employed to predict this technological evolution pattern. Since 1965, Moore’s law initially predicted that the performance of a device will double every year. As technology accelerates in performance, it also brings innovation to every aspect of our economies. Everything in our society is touched by technology in some measure, and we must not underestimate the enabling impact and influence it has on our businesses and our economy.

Technology megatrends present a new era of opportunity for Europe to prosper. Investing in digital services by leveraging big and open data, cloud computing, and mobility can act as a strong catalyst for EU’s competitiveness. According to the recent report by the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies, “Big and open data in Europe: A growth engine or a missed opportunity?,” the economic gains of big and open data policies in EU-28 by year 2020, are estimated at €206 billion in GPD—or 1.9% of GDP. Enabling data access to citizens will also contribute to make a more efficient use of public sector services, while at the same time provide increasing transparency and accountability. Furthermore, with cloud computing, storing data and making it available anytime anywhere has transformed government, health and even education through digital services. At the same time, these can be multiplied through mobile solutions.

Nowadays our students are no longer competing at the national or EU level. They need to be prepared to compete globally, and embracing the latest digital tools at an early stage can give them a competitive advantage. The successful implementation of the digital agenda together with the skills and training flagship initiative of Europe 2020 will help our young generation give our EU economy a competitive edge on the global scene. It is very important that we shift the educational model towards one where students are prepared for the skills the 21st century workforce requires. The only competition relevant for our young generation and for our economy is global competition. Global economies are investing in digital technologies and in teaching digital and analytical skills, and Europe must wake and do the same before it’s too late.


Source: Prague Leaders Magazine