2003 Ed. by T. Varis, T. Utsumi, and W. R. Klemm
University of Tampere, Hämeenlinna, Finland
THE GLOBAL UNIVERSITY SYSTEM
AND THE EUROPEAN UNION
Mrs. Viviane Reding
Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Education and Culture
I am delighted to have this opportunity to contribute to the book Global Peace through the Global University System. I am fully aware and supportive of the Global University System's aims and objectives, which are of particular importance to us in today's changing world. Education is one of the European Commission's key priorities, and we are committed to providing people of all ages and backgrounds with the opportunity to develop their skills and to pursue their educational and cultural interests. In our diverse societies, it is essential to ensure harmonious interaction among people and groups. I can think of no better way of achieving this than through education.
The Global University System is a very timely initiative. Universities and higher education institutions are key actors in the production and dissemination of knowledge. They are increasingly using e-learning as a source of added value for their students -- providing on and off-campus, flexible, virtual learning through web-based resources.
In Europe, universities are key actors in the transition to the Knowledge Society. It is crucial that we consider how best we in Europe can adapt and strengthen our educational polices to help us in this transition, which has been aptly described as a 'Knowledge Revolution'. Education plays an increasing role in preparing all of us, but especially our young people, to understand and to take advantage of the Knowledge Society.
Our traditions and expertise in Europe give us much to be proud of. We provide some of the best education in the world, and our cultural achievements are the envy of many. Goods produced in Europe are in demand and are exported all around the globe. Visitors flock to our countries to witness for themselves the glory of European cultural heritage. But I think it is important to ensure that we do not rest on our past achievements. We must look to the future. New technologies will play an increasingly important role in the development of Europe's economic and social performance. It is crucial, therefore, that we take full advantage of the opportunities provided by new technologies.
In the past twenty years, new technology has revolutionised the workplace. It is now transforming higher education. It is not something that we can ignore, it is happening now and we must grasp the opportunities it offers. The benefits should be available to all and not just to the privileged few. The denial of such new opportunities carries the danger of social exclusion, and that is something we must avoid.
Against this background, the European Council set in 2000 an ambitious target for Europe to become within ten years "the most competitive and dynamic-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion." They also placed education firmly at the top of the political agenda, calling for education and training policies to be adapted to meet this challenge.
In response to this, the European Commission launched its eLearning Action Plan in 2001. It is an ambitious initiative, addressing ICT needs in all areas of education and training, and it is soon to become a full program. In addition, in July 2002, the Commission presented a proposal for another new program, Erasmus Mundus, to enhance quality in European Higher Education and to promote intercultural understanding through co-operation with third countries in higher education. Finally, in February 2003, we adopted a new Communication on the role of universities in the Europe of knowledge. Let me briefly tell you about these three important initiatives and the relationship that they can have with the Global University System.
European Commission Initiatives
To consolidate and to take forward our plans for eLearning, a proposal for an eLearning Program is currently under consideration by the European Parliament and the European Council. If approved, it will come into effect for three-years from 2004 and will have four main subject areas. These are: Digital Literacy; Universities and Higher Education Institutions, School Twinning via the Internet and Transversal Actions for promoting eLearning. The objectives of the program are to promote and facilitate the effective use of ICT in European education and training systems, as a contribution to (i) an increased quality in education (ii) their adaptation to the needs of the knowledge society and (iii) the European model of social cohesion.
We will encourage the development of new organisational models for European virtual universities (virtual campus) and for European exchange and sharing schemes (virtual mobility). In order to do so, we will build on existing European co-operation frameworks (such as the Erasmus program and the Bologna process), and providing an "e-learning dimension" to their operational tools (European Credit Transfer System, European Master; quality assurance; mobility).
The transversal actions foreseen in the program will deal with, among other aspects, the promotion and take-up of good practice and products from the many projects and programs which have been funded at European level or by Member States and to reinforce co-operation between the various actors involved, in particular in fostering public-private partnerships. Funding under this heading will be also given to support participation in international projects, such as those under way at UNESCO.
The Erasmus Mundus scheme aims to strengthen international links in higher education. The basic features of the program include a global scholarship scheme for third country nationals, linked to the creation of "European Union Masters Courses" at European universities. These postgraduate courses would involve studying at several higher education institutions in different Member States and they would be distinguished by their European Label. Partnerships between EU Masters Courses and third country institutions would also be encouraged.
The Erasmus Mundus proposal confirms the European Commission's desire to encourage the opening up European higher education to the rest of the world. It complements the EU's existing regional programs in higher education with third countries (Tempus, Alfa, Asia-Link, EU-Canada, EU-USA). In this respect, it can mean an important boost for the increase of co-operation in the field of higher education with developing countries. It will also provide a framework to promote valuable exchanges and dialogue between cultures.
The growth of the knowledge society depends on the production of new knowledge, on its transmission through education and training, its dissemination through information and communication technologies, and on its use through new industrial processes or services. Universities take part in all these processes due to the key role they play in the fields of research, education and training, and regional and local development. The European Council in Barcelona recognised the need for excellence in its call for European systems of education to become a "world reference" by 2010.
In this context, the Commission has identified a series of areas within which reflection, and often also action, is needed. These are related to questions of funding, autonomy and professionalism, the achievement of excellence, the contribution to the local and regional needs and strategies, the establishment of closer co-operation between universities and enterprises. All these areas should foster a coherent, compatible and competitive European higher education area, as was called for by the Bologna declaration, as well as the European research area.
The purpose of our Communication on the role of the universities in the Europe of knowledge is to raise these questions and to call upon all players concerned (universities themselves, the rectors' conferences, students, business and the people of Europe) to make known their comments, suggestions and points of view on the various aspects addressed by the Communication, with a view to identify suitable initiatives.
The provision of good quality higher education is crucial to Europe's success. Higher education will continue to make a distinctive contribution to a learning society through teaching, scholarship and research. But this is not an easy process. Many universities and large private sector organisations around the world are setting up new higher education learning ventures to provide them with easier access to the emerging global market. The challenge is to provide a co-ordinated European response to this, to meet the needs and aspirations of a growing number of Europeans for a first class higher education, while maintaining equitable access and relevant services for a growing number of students. It is necessary for higher education institutions to set themselves ambitious objectives, to meet the new challenges, to establish closer links with other Universities, other research and educational partners in the public and private sectors, to develop their own marketing strategies and to disseminate and promote their achievements, many of which are world class.
ICT is having a marked impact on the way higher education is delivered and I am sure that you will agree that this is an important issue that must be addressed. It provides the scope to improve quality and to reduce costs in the future and the potential is great, but implementation requires investment in terms of time, thought and resources in the short term. We fail to respond to its challenges at our peril.
That is why we in the European Commission are very attentive to European universities' efforts in this field. As a part of the eLearning initiative, we are financing some innovative projects concerning different collaborative approaches to virtual universities, and a major study on models for the European universities of tomorrow. The objective is to provide us with a detailed overview on the current and possible future use of ICT by European universities for educational purposes. The wide range of strategies for ICT integration developed by some universities are sometimes fragmented and compartmentalised. Universities, or Departments within universities, for example, may have different priorities and different aims and objectives. The introduction of ICT methods and resources does not necessarily succeed in establishing links between the various Departments or between universities, nor does it result in the development of collaborative approaches to external competition.
The study should provide information and advice on these potential tensions, looking to the relationships between the public and private sectors, between Governments and universities, taking account of national and transnational issues. It will examine issues such as (i) how virtual mobility can be best utilised (ii) how ICT strategies in higher education can be used to enhance co-operation at the European level (iii) how universities can be further developed to include all members of society by, for example, creating local and regional partnerships and establishing learning links with other organisations.
These are just some of the issues that need to be examined further. But let me be clear - I think our universities are doing a marvellous job and are largely meeting the diverse needs of society. Many already enjoy good information technology infrastructures and have staff and students who are keen to utilise them to the full. The main challenge for the future is to harness that infrastructure, together with high quality learning materials to meet the needs of students and others. It is also crucial to put good management structures in place that take account of the needs of staff, students, teachers and other stakeholders in higher education.
It is vital that European universities play a leading role in the change to the Knowledge Society, and in the creative and demanding development of new technologies as teaching and learning resources. At the same time, they must ensure that the growing attention to commercial prospects does not dilute the quality of educational provision. I have confidence that most universities will raise to the challenge. Many are already doing so, and this will continue the European tradition of providing some of the best universities in the world.
As you can see, the way forward for Europe is both exciting and challenging. We have a lot of work to do, and we have to open our higher education institutions to the rest of the world. Erasmus Mundus will be crucial to this, but the eLearning program has also an important role to play in providing a "virtual" dimension. In this respect, the creation of the Global University System may support the dissemination and exchange of newly developed on-line educational resources that we hope to foster through this program.
The European Commission shares the Global University System's aim of providing global education in the context of wisdom, justice and peace. We believe that the Internet, and specifically e-learning, have an important contribution to make to the objective of achieving global peace. Modern technologies allow us to communicate and interact in ways that were unthinkable of before. Let us work together to exploit this potential to the full.
Author Biographical Sketch
Viviane Reding, Mrs.
Education and Culture
Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for education and culture since 1999, was born in Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg) in 1951.
After obtaining a doctorate in human sciences at the Sorbonne, she started a career as a journalist for the "Luxemburger Wort" in 1978. She went into politics in 1979, first holding a seat in the Luxembourg Parliament before entering the European Parliament in 1989, where she was the leader of Luxembourg's European People's Party delegation.
Since joining the Commission, she has launched new support programs for culture (Culture 2000) and audiovisual policy (Media Plus and, in cooperation with the European Investment Bank, the Innovation 2000 Initiative Audiovisual). New initiatives in the education policy include above all the "European Year of Languages 2001", the "eLearning Action Plan" and the "Lifelong Learning Action Plan".
With the "White Paper on Youth", she has proposed a new method and priorities for getting young people more involved in decisions which concern them.
Viviane Reding is also involved in sport policy, tackling the problems of doping and the exploitation of young people in professional sport.
In October 2001 Viviane Reding was awarded the gold medal of the "European Merit Foundation".