Università Gregoriana

Rome, 26 March 2019

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for having me here today. Having spent a large part of my adult life in a law faculty, it is always a great honour for me to come to the place where Latin is still being spoken. Latin is one of the most influential languages of all times.

Even now, I am reminded that I am the Commissioner for Education, a word derived from the latin educare – to train, to mold. It is fundamental for us to pass down our accrued knowledge to the next generation and to nurture young people, enabling them to grow into rounded personalities.

But education also derives from another Latin word – the sister of educareeducere, meaning to lead, to provide the means for the student to go forth and explore.

I want to congratulate you all on the agreement on the reciprocal recognition of higher education diplomas and qualifications, signed here in Rome in February. This agreement between the Holy See and the Italian Republic is an example of how much you care for education – and highly symbolic of the long-lasting commitment to foster studying abroad in higher education shared by the entire European education community. The Bologna Declaration kick-started this process in 1999. To see our work continue 20 years later is a testament to our perseverance, as well as to the size of the challenge that we are tackling here.

As I approach the end of my time as Commissioner, I am pleased to see that education, youth and culture are back where they belong: at the top of the EU’s political agenda. By 2025, we want to build a true European Education Area. A space where learning and knowledge will not be hampered by borders. Where spending time in another Member State – to study, to learn, or to work – has become the standard. Where people learn at least two foreign languages in addition to their mother tongue. And where they have a clear sense of their identity as Europeans. I am proud of the rapid progress we have been able to make together with Member States towards this bold objective.

Indeed, much of our work regarding education focuses on enabling young people to spend time learning abroad. These kinds of experiences abroad are hugely beneficial. Not only do they enhance people’s prospects on the job market. They also boost their self-confidence, entrepreneurial spirit and their European mind-set.  

I am very proud of the Erasmus+ programme for opening up such opportunities. But we must recognise that, today, fewer than 4% of our higher education students are able to go abroad with the help of Erasmus+. That is not enough. We can do better. We owe it to our young people and to our economic future, which increasingly depends on knowledge, cooperation and openness.

This is why we want to double funding for Erasmus after 2020, giving a real boost to learning abroad and ensuring that we make the programme as inclusive as possible. We want to create more opportunities for people to go abroad, including school pupils, vocational learners, apprentices and young people outside the formal education system.

And we want to do more to enable young people from less privileged backgrounds to have an Erasmus experience. For example, we have proposed to further increase the level of financial support and adapt it to fit the needs of people with fewer opportunities. We will also offer more blended and virtual mobility opportunities, making full use of digital innovations to reach out to more diverse people, in particular those for whom moving physically to another country would be an obstacle.

And based on our positive experiences in the youth field, we propose to introduce other more flexible learning formats, such as short-term or group mobility, which are the most successful in reaching out to young people with fewer opportunities. Moreover, we want to make the programme more accessible to small organisations, in particular newcomers and community-based grassroots organisations that work directly with disadvantaged learners of all ages.

The new Erasmus programme will also significantly boost opportunities for European students to have an experience of learning abroad in a non-European country – a new and popular part of the current Erasmus+ programme.

Finally, we envisage a new focus on promoting forward-looking study fields such as renewable energy, climate change and artificial intelligence. Fields that address key topics for Europe’s citizens and will play a decisive role in our future. We must have the ambition to be world leaders. This is true in these fields and regarding other future challenges that may present themselves to us. We must ensure that our high quality universities attract brilliant minds from around the world, so that we can turn these challenges into opportunities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Currently, pontifical universities based in Rome can only get involved in a limited number of actions, such as the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees, the Jean Monnet activities, Strategic Partnerships and Capacity Building projects, and only under certain specific conditions.

The signature of the agreement between the Holy See and Italy last month is a good starting point to widen the Holy See’s participation in our programme. Based on further arrangements, all pontifical universities and affiliated institutions under the authority of the Holy See could become eligible to take part in many more of our initiatives, on the same footing as their Italian counterparts. I encourage you to do so.

It would be truly exciting to see the Erasmus programme grow to include one of the oldest scholarly communities in Europe. The Holy See and pontifical universities have always been home to some of our brightest minds. Europe welcomes the scholars stemming from the same tradition that gave us the Vatican Apostolic Library. This is an institution with one of the oldest collections in the world. What a privilege.

I am therefore very much looking forward to closer collaboration between the competent bodies of the Holy See and Italy. This will have a positive impact not only on individuals of pontifical universities here in Rome, but on citizens all over Europe, and the world. Education, learning about others and about ourselves, is key to building a better future. Building a resilient, cohesive and open Europe. This is worth working for.

Thank you.