The Ireland-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce (ILCC) met on Tuesday 24 November 2015 at the Hotel Parc Belle-vue to discuss education for Europe's future within the context of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) for the first time with experts from academia and industry.
After an opening welcome from Geoff Thompson, ILCC Chairman and Moderator Joe Huggard introduced the topic up for discussion, as well as the Ireland-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce itself, which focuses on promoting exchange with regards to policy matters of business interest. He stated that an enhanced interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths has shown clear ambitions for what investments should be made in the future, but that this does spark a wider debate on education, its quality, and how it prepares people for a life in business.
Speaker Patrick Prendergast, provost at Trinity College Dublin and former professor of bio engineering, claimed that Europe is fortunate in the strength of its education but that changes must be anticipated and progress shaped. He commented that Ireland was in a unique position, due to a current and forecasted massive increase in both the young population and in those wishing to study science and technology, with most countries experiencing the reverse on both counts. Around 24,000 people entered into Irish higher education in 2013, and by 2028 this figure is expected to more than double to 50-60,000. Patrick Prendergast was of the opinion that this represented both a significant opportunity and challenge to Ireland and would require extracting as much potential as possible from an environment of increased student population and reduced government funding. His proposed solution was a multi-faceted approach, with funding to ensure the global competitiveness of universities coming from different sources including the government, non-state revenue and philanthropy.
Trinity College itself has attempted to join the innovation movement in education by launching a science gallery to present the field in the form of visual exhibitions to promote exciting aspects of science, another one of which it will be opening with Kings College London and in Melbourne and Bangalore. Patrick Prendergast commented that despite the importance of STEM education for innovation, Europe needed graduates in different disciplines and should not be limited to just these fields, with favoured 'Graduate Attributes' being academic excellence, critical thinking and effective communication, life-long learning and global citizenship. He said that the current system of taking goods and services from natural capital and putting them into economic activity, which then impacts on natural capital, was not sustainable and that scientists need to be educated to understand the constraints the world is facing in this respect.
Gabriel Crean, CEO at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST)presented STEM from a different perspective, looking at how to ensure positions are available for these graduates from Trinity and other universities. According to him, innovation is the key driver for European growth, with unemployment rates linked to a country's capacity to produce innovation.
An accelerated shift from European to Asian economies has seen a decrease in the competitiveness of the former, with China taking the number 1 position. Big companies, for example in Germany, are now choosing to spend more and more on Research & Development abroad and China is now the world's second largest R&D spender after the US and is similar in R&D size to Germany, France and Italy combined. Europe by contrast is spending more on basic research, ar around 32%, compared with 18% in the US and 5% in China, which Gabriel Crean stated would not be easy to maintain.
Luxembourg was cited as number 3 in the Global Talent Competitiveness Index, just behind Switzerland and Singapore, and was also at the top in terms of global talent versus GDP. However, the Grand Duchy is heavily reliant on one sector - financial and services, at 61.7% and 23.5%, respectively, which puts the country in a vulnerable position due to the incredible pressure currently experienced by this sector. Gabriel Crean pointed to the economic models of both Luxembourg and Ireland which have recently come under attack, for example in the case of the Fiat tax scandal, which has put the Grand Duchy in an unsettling position for attracting industries.
However, the country has been trying to diversify, as evidenced in the Belval Innovation Campus, a cluster of research centres, students and government agencies, which Gabriel stated would be very difficult to do in Dublin. He concluded that Europe cannot survive on a services-based economy, and instead needed to produce hardware and software. If Europe is to reach its 2020 target, it would need to create 15 million jobs in manufacturing in the next five years. Mr. Crean stated that there is now a window of opportunity for Europe which is almost closing, with the challenge to ensure that STEm education is relevant, up-to-date and includes an entrepreneurial component.
Luis de Miguel, Managing Director of ArcelorMittal Energy, emphasised innovation as not about conducting complicated studies, but rather about structuring the mind to solve different and new problems. Coming from an industry perspective, he stated that it was important that individuals showcase different competencies, with Europe in need of speed, innovation and willing entrepreneurs. As the founder of the 'Energy' company within leading global steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal, he felt a real need for young people to arrive in the world of work with a willingness to leave their comfort zone and claimed that this mindset needed to be taught to the students of today. According to Luis de Miguel, engineers or scientists should not just be heralded as the automatic leaders, but rather different mindsets should be brought into the equation to cover a wider range of perspectives, otherwise "doors are opening that purely scientific engineers will struggle to see."
Joe Huggard, as moderator of the panel discussion, summed up the event by describing the issue as complicated as it comprises competing priorities. With the Industry-Innovation-Education eco-systems, all compete for resources.
Photos by Geoff Thompson (Top, L-R): Joe Huggard; Patrick Prendergast; Gabriel Crean; Luis de Miguel