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Young graduates must show Europe the way forward

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's opening speech at the European Students Convention in Copenhagen 17 March.

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Unemployed young Europeans

Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this European Students' Convention. I am very happy to be here.

Are there any Irish here this evening? If so, I'd like to wish you a happy and festive St. Patrick's Day here in Copenhagen.

However, at the moment there is not much cause for celebration in Europe. Debt is high. Growth is low. And jobs all over Europe are being lost. Not least among young people.

More than every fifth young European between 15 and 24 is unemployed. That's almost 5 million people. In Slovakia, Portugal, Italy and Ireland nearly every third young person is out of work. And that figure is close to every 2nd in Spain and Greece.

These are difficult times for Europe.

But every crisis also presents the opportunity to stand up and ask some important questions.

  • Can we rethink the systems?
  • Can we get past conventional thinking?
  • Can we create better conditions for development with sustainable growth?

So as the Danish Higher Education Minister I am pleased that Denmark is providing the setting for the important discussion that is on the agenda in the coming days: "Getting Young Europe Out of the Crisis: eyes on higher education and employability of graduates".

I have no doubt that you as students can contribute constructively to the debate on employment opportunities for graduates across Europe.

To launch the debate, I would like to highlight three issues that I believe would be important to discuss. The issues are employability, entrepreneurship and internationalisation.

Employability is the key word

High levels of graduate unemployment pose a serious problem. It causes considerable personal strain on the unemployed graduate. And society loses out on the latest knowledge that the graduate brings from their higher education institution.

But it is not a question of encouraging young people to pursue less education. Quite the opposite. More education is part of the answer to Europe's challenges.

But some things have to change.

We must first and foremost ensure we are educating young people for work and not unemployment. The transition from education to the labour market must be far more efficient.

This raises possibilities regarding the content of educational programmes, career clarification during studies and labour market-related conditions.

Employability is the keyword. And I think it's thought-provoking that that notion hasn't become more popular here in Denmark.

There is somewhat of a tendency to see employability as clashing with academic immersion. Which is certainly not the case. And Denmark could learn from other countries to a greater extent. Because employability is fundamentally about education contributing more to preparing graduates for working life. And that is not something that comes at the cost of quality or subject knowledge. On the contrary.

Jobs are something you create

Employability is essential. But we also need more young entrepreneurs creating new jobs!

In Denmark, when students finish their primary schooling, there are many who are full of ideas and want to start their own company. But after spending 3 years at upper secondary school, there are fewer who want to be entrepreneurs. And by the time they graduate from university, the entrepreneurial spirit is almost dead.

I don't believe this tendency is far removed from the experience in other European countries.

We have to address this problem.

Education should give graduates the ability and belief that they can create their own job or company with their education as a foundation. Instead of relying on labour market demand.

Young graduates also have a responsibility to create jobs or find employment to help contribute to growth, welfare and job creation for others. You must show Europe the way forward.

It requires innovative education programmes, a focus on career guidance and a change of mindset among students and educators.

Not at the expense of research-based education but via a better integration of practice, innovation and entrepreneurship in utilising research-based knowledge.

Students shouldn't just be listening to lectures and submitting exam papers. Thoughts and ideas must be transformed to new products, processes and companies. Students must create change, be enterprising, and be able to see through an idea to its development.

Allow me to give you an example:

A few weeks ago I visited Copenhagen Business School where I met a young entrepreneur Botond Vagi. During Botond's original studies at a business academy he attempted to get some different business ideas off the ground, but without break-through success.

Instead, he went to Copenhagen Business School where he became part of an academic entrepreneurial environment. When doing his Master's project 3 years ago, Botond had an idea to deliver solar energy directly to the consumer.

Today, Botond heads a company that has supplied the largest solar energy system in the Nordics and delivers green electricity to more than 1500 customers in Denmark daily. And the company already has global ambitions and expects to establish an office in Brazil by the end of this year.

Use Europe

And now let me turn to internationalisation and European cooperation.

I believe that graduates must become better at utilising the opportunities of a European labour market. It will be rewarding for both the individual graduate and for Europe's economy that the graduate's competences are used in those areas of Europe where they are needed and where there is opportunity. This requires education to have an international focus, but also a change of mindset for many students.

To this day, the EU has supported almost 2.5 million students who have studied or taken an internship abroad. And during the Danish EU Presidency, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Erasmus programme. During this time, negotiations will also begin on the EU's forthcoming education and youth programme: Erasmus for All.

And we must be ambitious. We must strengthen the internationalisation of European education and ensure a better connection to the labour market.It must be made easier to study or take a work placement abroad.

The Bologna Process is very important in this regard, it has resulted in better quality education with greater opportunities for mobility for all. And I look forward to receiving a copy of your publication, "Bologna with Student Eyes". It is important that we see how the education reforms and targets set under the auspices of Bologna impact your daily lives.

The recommendations that the European Students' Union delivers in the next three days will be a meaningful contribution to the ministerial conference in Bucharest next month, where we aim to outline the future development for European cooperation in the higher education area.

The future focus will, among other things, be on the full implementation of all Bologna reforms to bring real
benefits on the ground, to students and institutions.

Developing change

These are difficult times for Europe. But it's important to remember that the crisis also presents the possibility of change and renewal. And we must seize this opportunity.

We must develop our educational institutions and their programmes and focus on employability. We must educate our way to jobs not unemployment. And we must not kill off the initiative of young people. And finally, we must ensure that more young people embrace mobility, both during and after education, and are ready to look for work in other European countries.

I believe the ESU has an opportunity to play a key role in this regard as a messenger for the opportunities of European employment for European graduates.

And I wish you a successful conference with my whole-hearted backing that you can contribute solutions to the challenges of graduate unemployment.

Thank you.

last modified Jan 11, 2022