Speech by Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager on a New Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027 and a New European Research Area

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 30 september 2020.

Today we adopted three strategic proposals:

  • A communication on a European Education Area
  • A new Digital Education Action Plan
  • A communication on a renewed European Research Area

I will now focus on the last two.

Let's start with the Digital Education Action Plan.

“The key lesson of the COVID-19 crisis is that digital education should no longer be viewed as an island of its own but considered an integral part of all education and training”. Those words are not mine. They come from a teacher who shared feedback during our stakeholder consultation. I think it's a very good way of stating an essential point: digital education is now an integral part of our future. It is a matter of utmost importance.

This is why we have suggested that 20% of the Recovery and Resilience Facility is invested in digital transformation. And two of the seven flagships we have prioritised for the recovery are reskilling and upskilling of people, and the modernisation of public services including education.

So today, the Digital Education Action Plan proposes to take this journey forward. It is designed to support Member States, because most of the competence in this field lies with them, in achieving two priorities.

The first priority looks at the enablers of digital education. What should we do to create a digital education system that is high-performing and that works for all?

As for most education challenges, one needs to start young. That is why one of the first things we need to do is to make sure our schools are properly equipped to run their digital transformation. Specific guidance will be developed to assist them in this process. It will look at all aspects from their network connectivity, to basic technological equipment to new teacher trainings on innovative teaching methods.

Modernising education is also about adapting what we teach and how we teach to a completely new technological reality. We will develop a framework on the content of digital education and produce guidelines on the use of Artificial Intelligence and data in teaching and learning. So that when we teach and learn, we do it in a way that makes the best and safest use of technology.

Our second strategic priority consists in enhancing digital skills and competences.

Today, more than one in five young people fail to reach a basic level of digital skills. Giving people access to upskilling and reskilling is an absolute necessity.

To do so, we first need to make sure, of course, that teachers themselves feel confidence and have the access to acquire the right skills.. That is why we will expand our current competence schemes to give them the opportunity to get the training and the skills needed. In parallel, a new certificate will be created to serve as a kind of “passport” for all Europeans to indicate their level of digital proficiency. A bit like, I think, what we know today for languages, that you have all sort of different scores, that will tell your possible employer how good you are at speaking French, English, or Romanian.

Now just as for our education system, no digital and green transitions will ever be possible without a well-functioning research system. A research system that is able to bring us groundbreaking and marketable innovation. And that is why the second thing that I will talk about is a new European Research Area.

A renewed European Research Area can only thrive if there is no compromise on excellence. Today, the vast differences across Europe in terms of investments in - and quality of - research mean lost opportunities and lost potential. All Member States should therefore be in a position to produce excellence in scientific research. We propose that Member States who are below the EU average increase their total investment in R&D by 50% in the next 5 years. In order to reform their Research systems and increase their ambition, they can use EU support and make this part of their recovery plan.

Besides confirming the 3% goal of GDP, private and public investment together,, we propose that Member States commit to raise their public R&D efforts from 0,81% to 1.25% of GDP by 2030, and that they consider committing 5% of this amount to joint programs and partnerships.

Last but not least, we need to speed up the transfer of research and innovation into the economy. The excellence of Europe's researchers suddenly becomes tangible and visible as soon as their innovations make their way into our daily lives. This usually happens when the entire research system - whether academia, industry, public institutions - works together to take new insights all the way from early research to market deployment.

This is what happened with one of our projects, the Graphene flagship. Back in 2013 academic and industrial researchers came together with a promise to take graphene material from laboratories into our European market. Ten years later, the result speaks for itself. We have graphene in high-capacity batteries, airplane parts and motorcycle helmets to name a few. We need more of these success-stories.

Finally, we need to help Europe attract and keep its talents. This starts with the development of a “toolbox” to support researchers. It will look at all aspects of their careers - from mobility between industry and academia to targeted trainings. And this will serve as a pipeline for talents.

To conclude, the Digital Education Action Plan and the new European Research Area are both serving one same purpose: beyond preparing ourselves for future similar challenges as the one we are currently facing, they are about creating the right conditions to ensure Europe makes the most of its twin digital and green transitions. As such, those two pieces are more needed than ever.

I will now leave the floor to my colleagues to lead you through both initiatives in more details.