1st European Enterprise-Education Summit

Brussels, 23 November 2017

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Dear participants,

First of all, let me thank you for inviting me. I am particularly satisfied to be here today because I followed the Pact for Youth from the very beginning back in 2015. When we met last July for the European Entrepreneurship Education Summit, we discussed the state of play of the Pact4Youth. Our initial objective was to reach 10,000 education-business partnerships. There are now more than 23,000. So, let me congratulate you for your excellent work and for your commitment.

This is much more than a promising start, it is proof that business and education are meant to cooperate. And we can achieve much more if all of us, including policy makers, drive this further with determination. I therefore hope that these first two years of the Pact for Youth are only the first chapter of a much longer book.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Finally, Europe is bouncing back from the economic crisis. All Member States are recording growth, more people than ever before - 235 million - have a job and, most importantly, a sense of optimism has returned.  And the field of education is another source of good news: as the recently published 2017 edition of the Education and Training Monitor shows, the rate of early school leavers is very close to the European objective of 10%. EU Member States are also making clear progress in other key areas like early childhood education and care, the rate of people completing tertiary education and the employability of recent graduates. And investment in education is increasing after years of budgetary cuts.  

So what is next? I believe it is now time to look to the future and build the foundations to ensure that, whatever crisis we might have to weather in the future, our resilience will be much greater.

It is about strengthening social cohesion, giving a fair chance to every citizen, enabling each of them to exploit their talent, and to provide safety nets for those who feel cannot cope. And it is about overcoming the tragic paradox of the skills mismatch and ensuring that everyone, our pupils in particular, is flexible and self-confident enough to make the most of globalisation, a phenomenon that brings as many opportunities as it brings uncertainties.

Dear participants,

Many of the answers will be found in education. Today's education is tomorrow's society. And, as I said at the launch of the Pact, long-term challenges are not less pressing than the immediate ones.

Modernising our education systems is a complex challenge. And part of the answer is precisely to bridge the gap between businesses and schools. Importantly, we need to enable pupils to learn in a more entrepreneurial manner, with much stronger links and interaction with the labour market. 

The European Commission has been working to help drive education reform for years. For example, since 2006, we introduced entrepreneurship and sense of initiative as one of the eight key competences that all Member States should mainstream in their curricula. We have been using the Erasmus+ programme to promote partnerships. For example, we have been supporting the creation of mini-companies in schools. The European Institute of Technology and Innovation has incubated more than 1200 projects; and we have supported the creation of a self-assessment tool for universities which enables them to measure their level of innovation.

Some might be tempted to say that a lot remains to be done. I prefer to stress that despite the challenges ahead of us, we are not starting from scratch. To the contrary, the last fifteen years have been a golden age of teaching entrepreneurship. Even if the current situation among Member States is uneven, entrepreneurship education is today a reality in all our Member States.

As recently highlighted by Pascal Lamy in his report on the future of research and innovation in the EU, "a fundamental reform of the role of education should systematically embed innovation and entrepreneurship in education across Europe". Entrepreneurial competences are increasingly important in business, whether in the public or the not-for-profit sectors, together with resilience and empathy, creativity and critical thinking, for example.

In fact, pupils and trainers involved in entrepreneurship education and training programmes are more willing to create start-ups compared to students who did not receive such training. Furthermore, supporting entrepreneurship competences positively impacts the motivations and career perspectives of young people. It can lead to higher employability, greater school engagement; and it can help protect from social exclusion.

This is exactly what employers are looking for: young employees who are ready and able to learn throughout their lives, who are creative and who can solve problems working with others. In other words, we must provide attitudes, not only aptitudes. And I do not see a better way to do so than teaching entrepreneurship at all levels of education. The aim is not necessarily for all pupils to become entrepreneurs, but for them to develop an entrepreneurial mind-set.

The discussions on whether entrepreneurship can be taught, whether it has an impact, are far behind us. The challenge now is to make sure that as many students as possible benefit from entrepreneurship education, to take a promising trend one step higher and turn it into an irreversible phenomenon. That is the challenge.

How should we proceed? Let me elaborate on three ideas.

The first one is that of a benchmark at European level. We use benchmarks in other fields, notably early school leaving and early education and experience shows that they are valuable in triggering results. Imagine for example that we could convince Member States to agree on a percentage of schools or pupils that must follow an entrepreneurial education course. Imagine that all EU pupils were obliged to have at least one entrepreneurial experience, be it a visit to a local business or the creation of their own mini-company at school, before they leave compulsory education. I firmly believe these steps would make a huge difference and enable us to spread entrepreneurship education much more widely.

And that is why I want us to take action. In the Communication Strengthening European Identity through Education and Culture, which the Commission adopted just last week, and which fed into a debate by EU leaders at the Gothenburg Summit, we propose for the first time to consider a benchmark on entrepreneurship. And that is why teaching entrepreneurship will be at the core of the new Recommendation on Key Competences I will present in January.

Second, and this is a message for the business representatives in the room: please help us convince small and medium sized enterprises to get involved. Some are certainly highly committed, but in those countries where entrepreneurship education is not a given, SMEs are the missing link preventing quicker development. We often ask schools to talk to business, but we sometimes forget this is a two-way street. And sometimes, SMEs are a bit reticent to step in.

Third, and this is linked to my previous point. Let us not forget rural areas and use entrepreneurship to stop one of our most burning problems: brain drain and rural desertification. In rural areas, a school and the chance to create your own opportunities are often the last reason not to leave. If we want to spread entrepreneurship, we have to make sure everyone, even in the least accessible areas, can benefit from it. And we will not succeed in this without the strong commitment of SMEs.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It hope that these points will stimulate your debate. Let me please thank again all those driving the European Pact for Youth, including the Commission services involved in it.  We should not underestimate the huge task ahead of us, but I am convinced that this Pact is the beginning of a much closer relationship between business and education.

Thank you.