In Europe, we trust: key takeaways about the EU’s contribution to education from ASU+GSV 2018


ASU+GSV 2018 Going Global: Euro Stars

Housing over 19.5 million students, 2,465 higher education institutions and creating millions of employment opportunities every year, the European Union constitutes one of the markets with the highest breakthrough potential, especially in terms of higher education. This discussion point marked the start of the Global Panel: Euro Stars that took place on Wednesday, 18th of April 2018, at the ASU+GSV conference in San Diego, CA, USA.

Known as the biggest ed-tech conference in the world, this year’s ASU+GSV edition focused on fostering dialogue between key decision makers in the education field. The conference brings together the most impactful people from an array of backgrounds—entrepreneurs, business leaders, educators, policymakers, philanthropists, and university and district leaders—to create partnerships, explore solutions, and shape the future of learning. The co-founder and CEO of Studyportals, Edwin van Rest, had the pleasure to lead the Global Panel: Euro Stars session, in which Europe’s potential as a key change-maker in education was strongly highlighted.

The session included panelists Michal Borkowski, CEO of Brainly, Anders Krohn, CEO and co-founder of Aula, Bernhard Niesner, CEO of Busuu, and Lucy Stonehill, CEO of Bridge-U Ltd.

It was an honour and a pleasure for Studyportals to lead the discussions on why Europe should more often be considered as a top player, especially by educators, investors and current and future entrepreneurs. When it comes to providing quality education and innovation opportunities, especially for young people from around the world, Europe cannot be ignored as a key provider. Having worked with over 46 institutions and organisations from across the continent and 114 globally, Studyportals balances out the global and the Eurocentric points of view, placing us in the opportune position of leading the panel.

Discussions ranged from the economic benefits that make Europe an attractive investment destination to the large multilingual, multi-disciplinary-taught and multicultural talent pool that higher education institutions and companies can target within Europe.

Here are the the main 5 key takeaways from the panel regarding Europe’s contribution to the global education scene:

1. Europe harbours a large talent pool that is multicultural, multilingual and highly educated

Attracting and acquiring the right people for an organisation is currently a critical discussion point for many. In an international business environment (like the one we are experiencing nowadays), being skilled in just one domain doesn’t suffice. Gaining a variety of experiences from going abroad and being fluent in foreign languages maximises a young person’s potential within companies or organisations. The European educational system encourages diversity among its citizens, especially when it comes to culture and languages. This fact plays a key role in the attractivity of European youth and citizens within the global job market.

The 2012 Eurobarometer survey on Europeans and their languages revealed that Europeans foster very positive attitudes towards multilingualism:

  • 98% of the respondents think that mastering foreign languages will benefit their children;
  • 88% are of the opinion that knowing languages other than their mother tongue is very useful, especially career-wise;
  • 72% agree with the EU goal of at least 2 foreign languages for everyone;
  • 77% say improving language skills should be a policy priority, since it promotes a multicultural mindset.

The direction and policies that support this type of mindset make it easier for young people to acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to function effectively in a pluralistic society. Thus, they learn to interact, negotiate, and communicate with people from diverse groups. In a report from McKinsey, it’s stated that superior talent is up to eight times more productive, a fact that influences performance and innovation. This mindset is currently highly required in the job market and encouraged within Europe, creating the space for more innovation to happen.

2. It is the perfect investment playground and innovation hub

Europe’s reputation as a stable economic power has been shaken after the 2008 economic crisis. In 2018, we are witnessing an innovation comeback, especially from countries such as Germany and France. Because of the digital revolution, more start-ups, scale-ups, and SMEs are being created in Europe, thus giving the space for more talent to have access to rewarding employment and development opportunities.

In terms of higher education, institutions such as ETH Zurich, Imperial College London, and the Technical University of Munich are among the world’s best for Computer Science for example. They have earned a global reputation for leading the digital scene with their disruptive ideas and research. Also, as pointed out by the Financial Times, “the level of higher education is strongest in Scandinavian countries and northern Europe, including the Netherlands.” Because of this high standard set for education in Europe, students have a more solid base to start from regarding employment.

There are still some setbacks that need to be addressed regarding the flexibility of European law and innovation. For example, its rate of private sector investment in research and development is still too low and over-focused on traditional industries. But policymakers and entrepreneurs are optimistic about Europe’s role in leading innovation and economic growth.

3. Europe has a unique position to help out the world’s most numerous youth population

Since 1990, Africa’s young population has exploded, currently counting as the fastest growing continent in terms of youth. By 2030, the projected number of young people globally is expected to reach 1.3 billion. Out of these, 500 million are expected to come from the African continent by 2030. Especially due to the time zone and physical proximity, European higher education institutions can look towards Africa to spot market expansion opportunities.

The panelists agreed on the importance of investing the necessary educational resources in this specific group. When these young people start coming on the job market, they need to be ready to be absorbed into the labour force. By offering targeted support in terms of education, Europe can have a huge impact on the supply-demand relation within the global workforce distribution.

The EU is already making progress regarding its relationship with African students, especially through its dedicated Erasmus+ programmes. The goal of such initiatives is to harmonise African higher education, via a close cooperation with the African Union, but also with partners such as the AAU. These partnerships are taking shape through initiatives such as the Tuning Africa project and recent work on quality assurance in higher education (HAQAA) and credit transfer. More higher education institutions should start considering their offer towards African students and especially towards young people coming from the African continent. This move will have an immense impact on the future of employment and innovation, by catering to the most numerous youth population in the world.

4. Europe’s position as a leader by setting a high-quality standard for its education programmes and institutions

The number of European institutions and programmes that figure at the top of rankings serves as a quality indicator for the continent’s contribution and commitment to innovation and lifelong learning. European universities want to move away from being known as just good research hubs by making space for more collaboration, working on global challenges and becoming more socially-aware and innovative. This dedication to quality education, in turn, will offer more students the possibility to learn relevant information and work on practical skills that will contribute to global development efforts.

As stated on the official European Commission website: “The European Commission supports EU countries and higher education institutions in modernising education programmes to provide graduates with high-level, employable skills, as well as the transferable skills that equip graduates for a fast-changing labour market.” Entrepreneurs, in particular, should take advantage of the discoveries and developments coming out of the academic field in Europe. By collaborating together, both higher education institutions and start-ups can benefit from each other’s know-how and working style, thus creating products, services, and systems that will ultimately benefit society.

5. Balancing out freedom and strict rules is what Europe does best

Fostering an environment that promotes innovation and development requires both strict rules and freedom of thought. During the panel, all speakers agreed that Europe balances out these two in a manner that creates the perfect space for attracting talent and supporting innovation. Take, for example, the most recent news regarding data protection coming from the EU. Because of the 25th of May deadline, GDPR or General Data Protection Regulation is a big concern for any institution working with the European Union or involving citizens of the European Union. This set of laws and regulations has already caused a stir not only in the business world, but for everyone who is processing data. The main reason behind this commotion is that so far, there hasn’t been such a measure taken to this extent regarding data protection. Also, even though these laws existed in the EU, they weren’t reinforced to the extent that will happen after the 25th of May 2018.

On the other hand, Europe is known for its placed emphasis on freedom of speech and expression. This openness towards these values can also be seen in the Human Freedom Index report. Created by the Cato Institute, it measures liberty across the world using 79 different indicators and then ranking countries accordingly. In the report for 2017, all European countries ranked high on the set scale, with Ireland on the highest position from all EU countries (number 4) and Greece ranking lowest (number 60) out of 159 countries and territories.


The panel represented a space that acknowledged Europe’s current position as an important player regarding economic growth, education and innovation support. As an overall message, you should keep a close eye on Europe, especially in terms of education quality and shaping talent. It was an honour for us here, at Studyportals, to lead the panel discussions. We are looking forward to having more attention put on the European market, because, as mentioned in the panel, its opportunities are endless.

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