Authenticity Makes a Difference

2014-05-25

How do we respond to the onslaught of challenges facing universities and business schools? When the world is changing, clinging to old models is a bad idea. Know thyself and build on it.

Read how we at JIBS are keeping the creeping sameness in the business of business school at bay.

Full story in my 19 May 2014 article “Authenticity Makes a Difference“at www.vertikals.se – JIBS’ blog on entrepreneurship, renewal and ownership.

 


The Changing Business of Business Schools

2014-02-25

I think it’s time for us to admit that the critics have a valid question: Why aren’t business schools changing faster to keep up with changes in the business world?

Full story in my25 February 2014 guest blog “The Changing Business of Business School“.

 

EFMD is a management development network serving over 800 member organisations from academia, business, public service and consultancy in 81 countries. It is a unique forum for information, research, networking and debate on innovation and best practice inmanagement development.


Making the good even better: reforming a business school

2014-02-15

You are probably not very familiar with Jönköping International Business School (JIBS) or its Swedish name Internationella Handelshögskolan but our goal is that within five years you will be…..over the last two years my colleagues and I have carefully begun to reform Jönköping International Business School (JIBS) in Sweden along its basic business dimensions.

Full story in my January 2014 article “Making the Good even Better” in Global Focus, 2014, 9(1), pp. 48-51. Here I describe and discuss the transformations made to renew the pioneering and entrepreneurial strategy and culture of this unique Swedish business school.

The issue of Global Focus was published in conjunction with the annual 2014 Dean and Director General Conference, attracting more than 300 business school leaders from around the globe.


To MOOC or not, that’s the question

2014-02-12

The MOOCs phenomenon – Massive Open Online Courses – comes with either the threat or promise of disruptive innovation in one of the fundamental pillars of society: higher education. How should business schools deal with this phenomenon?

MOOCs are networked higher education courses delivered on the net to anyone with a thick internet connection, anywhere. The first MOOC was offered in 2008 – and was a result of the convergence of distance (“e-“) learning and the accelerating bandwidth of the internet. The acronym speaks to the promises that MOOCs offer:

  • Massive. The technology enables thousands of students to enroll and participate at any time in courses about anything taught by talented professors from any institution in the world.
  • Open.  They are open in several respects. Anyone can enroll. Students may pay a symbolic fee to get the formal credit from the host institution, but they do not pay for participation in the course.  The material produced by faculty is open and shared openly.
  • Online. Participants network openly with faculty, among themselves, and with others who are online. Content is always available on the net and can take many forms, like articles, books, videos, tweets and tags.
  • Courses.  MOOCs can cover just about any course taught in a traditional university setting, from humanities to social sciences, to even the hard sciences. Almost no type of course is MOOC ineligible.

The arguments between MOOCs proponents and skeptics are filling newspaper articles, blog posts, tweets and conferences. Will MOOCs fundamentally transform higher education, or is it just hype playing on the emotional appeal of “bringing inexpensive higher education to millions?”

No matter what it is, it seems clear that university leaders need to start paying greater attention.

Learnings from Two Conferences

Over the last week, I attended two meetings for business school leaders where the MOOCs theme surfaced center stage: the 2014 EFMD Conference for Deans & Directors General in Gothenburg and the 2014 AACSB Deans Conference in San Francisco. These meetings attracted respectively more than 300 and 600 business school leaders from all over the world. During the sessions, I learned about the leading providers of MOOCs:

  1. A few Stanford science and engineering professors began offering their courses online and founded the for-profit MOOCs providers Udacity and Coursera.
  2. The MOOCs landscape today includes a range of for- and non-profit providers with their own twist, including KhanAcademy, Udemy, and CodeAcademy.
  3. MIT and Harvard formed a new approach, the edX consortium, which currently includes many Ivy League quality universities in the world. In July 2013, edX went open-source and shared the software needed to develop MOOCs.
  4. In September 2013, Google signed up with edX to create a portal website that will go live in a few months  – mooc.org – which they hope will soon become a YouTube for MOOCs. (Google is already a member of the Udacity initiated Open Education Alliance.)

Understanding the debate

At the two gatherings, we heard from both MOOCs proponents and skeptics. Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn (“Learn anytime, anywhere”), gave a sobering view of the possibilities of MOOCs, reminding us they are a merely an extension of the Open University approach already in place for 40 years. His message: Forget the hype about the end of universities. Higher ed just needs to learn how to augment their content with crowd interaction and great online user-experiences.

Some claimed MOOCs have already gone from good to great. Paul Stacey of Creative Common praised one of the first MOOCs – ds106.us – for its fundamental social learning, open pedagogy and underlying “constructivism” philosophy of education. His message: don’t let these fundamentals slip.

Coursera co-founder Daphny Koller (“Take the World’s Best Courses, On-Line, for Free”) and Ben Nelson, founder of Minerva (“Only the world’s brightest, most motivated students will be invited to attend”) represented the contrast between Massively & Open-oriented vs. Small & Elite-oriented.  Their overall message was that MOOCs will help teaching reclaim prominence in today’s research-biased higher education world.

From the debate, Q&As, and informal talk during these gatherings, it became clear to me that in MOOCs lie both opportunities and threats for all higher education institutions, including business schools. Some will find natural strengths to integrate MOOCs into their strategy, like the renowned universities that have already signed up with big MOOC providers. But others will have faculty members who adamantly oppose MOOCs, and some institutions will assert their territorialism.

We are seeing this already. On 2 May 2013, professors in the philosophy department at San Jose State University, CA wrote a letter to Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor whose MOOC on Justice they felt infringed on their own curriculum. The letter urged Sandel to “not produce products that will replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.” But one of the commentaries on this letter countermanded, “…we also need to face the fact that professors can be expendable and replaceable, especially when real financial constraints are considered.  That is tough on egos.”

Similarly, 58 Harvard professors voiced their frustration that Harvard had become so deeply involved with edX without consulting them. In a letter to the dean they called for a new committee and greater oversight of MOOCs. The dean didn’t comply.

So What’s Next?

Personally, I see potential for symbiosis from the interaction of traditional higher education and MOOCs.

On one hand, even the skeptics can’t ignore the gross enrolment numbers MOOCs can generate. In January 2014, one of the earliest MOOC providers signed up students at a daily rate of 10.000, totaling some 7 million participants. Skeptics point to low completion rates though, only 4 to 10%. But, even with completion rate of just 7%, the number of Coursera “graduates” equals all students currently enrolled in three Harvard Universities and one MIT combined. Such an achievement calls for celebration, IMO!

I also agree with the criticisms about traditional lectures and often ask faculty why any student should spend time listening to one in an auditorium. Students tell me they rather get an App or go to an online site where they can watch a video of the lecture whenever and wherever they like. They also want to be able to choose the video of a more talented professor—and we are seeing this happen– celebrity professors who are becoming like rockstars.

But questions remain: Will students and employers value a MOOC diploma as much as the one from a “real” university? What is the perceived value of an “accreditation” of a course made by a Nobel Laureate compared to an international accreditation agency? A few days ago 110.000 people had signed up for the first such MOOC, offered by Laureate Robert Schiller,  who gained the prize in 2013. Can MOOC providers continue to operate with a viable business model? And who will pay for the professorial time devoted to develop and run MOOCs, especially in institutions already stretched financially?

What will evolve next is an open question for all of us. If MOOCs represent the tsunami some people claim they are, it is difficult to see how resistance to them will prevail. The next step would at least be for universities to open up to substituting MOOCs for some their own courses in programs delivered on campus. I am sure the MOOCs providers are exploring viable business models that could let this happen, and quality ensured licensing looks like the natural choice.

In my business school, JIBS, I want us to be ready for this possibility. That is why we recently launched a strategic project with a dual purpose: 1) to explore how we could encourage some faculty members to develop MOOCs and learn from this; and 2) how we can integrate others’ MOOCs into our degree programs. At least, we’re taking a first step.


Educating for Employment

2012-04-30

Policy makers and company leaders are starting to be serious about making policies to help close the EU gap between demand and supply of skills.

Four million job vacancies and 20 million unemployed. The real pain is felt in Spain, Greece and elsewhere throughout the EU, but these numbers are also getting to policy makers in Brussels.  April 26-27 I attended the 2012 European Business Summit in Brussels, which is an annual event for a few hundred leaders of private and public organizations mixed with prime ministers and EU officials. This year the theme was Skills and the purpose was to discuss “the necessity to find solutions for an aging workforce, the mismatch between the current educational system and youth unemployment and ways to improve education.” 

The Summit program included presentations by business leaders, presidents of industry associations, EU commissioners,  prime ministers and the presidents of the European Council and European Commission. Most of them talked about the problem, we do not generate the right skills for long-term economic growth, and some of them about possible solutions. Almost all speakers stressed two things: the importance of encouraging young people to study science, technology and engineering, and the need to help students become more “employable”. The former they see as the long-term guarantee of innovation in Europe and the latter is a necessity since we can’t afford the current system where university graduates don’t find jobs. The message I heard was that universities should  listen more carefully to the needs of (current) the private and public sector.

I’ve heard it before. When I was president of a Danish university 2009-2011 the debate was the same. In view of the mounting deficit and national debt the governments kept funding the universities generously, but they began to demand that university professors climbed down from their ivory towers to research to resolve real and important societal problems and educate to enhance employability. They also pushed for more science, technology and engineering studies. I also heard it in Singapore two weeks ago and I guess I’ll continue to hear it in Sweden too. I conclude that this message about education for job creation will be stronger over the next few years.

The primary reason I attended the Summit was to contribute to a special roundtable on Management Skills for Growth hosted by EFMD, to which I was invited.  Kicked-off by one of the editors of The Economist and the chairman of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology the roundtable discussion served to refine a Call for Action from EFMD about management skills and practice as a way to accelerate value creation in Europe. This two-page Call for Action will be channeled to EU policy makers and hopefully have some impact. The group included senior leaders of companies as diverse as Telefonica and Facebook, people from management education organizations of different kinds and as representatives from the Education and Culture and Enterprise and Industry DGs of the European Commission.

We discussed several ideas and potential practices for how to make even better connections between industry and academia. For example, the practice of  Innovation Factories in Germany, which serve to bring scholars of technology, business and company people together to solve concrete problems that maters to society. Another approach we talked about was to consider PhD studies a way to become entrepreneur, not only an academic professor. I talked about the need to use the public sector to drive innovation, which seem to find fertile grounds in this group. Others talked about the need to break down “elitism” in higher education since the famous companies of today were started by university drop outs. Others ventilated their frustrations about business schools being too detached from real world problems and sometimes even causing them. Yet, others talked about the need to create fertile context for entrepreneurship within existing companies and among people who are approaching and even passing formal retirement age – “senior entrepreneurship”.

Reflections

First, the EU has proven itself as capable of stimulating evolution, but seems less great at navigating in revolutions. But, as some of the people argued, we’re in revolutionary times and right now we need policies for revolutions more than polices for evolutions. I didn’t see much discussion of that.

Second, I was also left with the impression that most decision makers don’t really differentiate between research and innovation. As the Swedish Paradox illustrates, there is no clear positive relationship between research funding and commercialized innovation. In fact, that is one of the great myths of our time, and a convenient one for scholars who want to stay in the ivory tower.

Third, John Stewart Mill said that you can’t create happiness; you can only create the conditions from which happiness may emerge (as a product of something else). Otherwise you may end up with nothing. The policy makers I listened to seem to have forgotten this wisdom.  It is unlikely that EU or a national government really can create polices that will directly create jobs and the desired social inclusion. It is probably better to think of policies that create something else, which has the outcome of also creating jobs and social inclusion. That “something else” should be huge private and public investments in development of new products, services, processes and systems in the intersection between atoms, bits, neurons and genome, which can be applied to solve problems as diverse as effective elderly care and efficient green energy.

To pull this off we need both young and more experienced people with skills, wills and passion for technology, design and business – working together. In the world of the 27 nation EU and the rest of the world we also need people who, just like EU Commission President Barosso said he is advising his own children, speak many languages and mix natural sciences with the deep insights gained from the humanities.

For that statement I simply had to shake his hand!


Men, Women and Prosperity

2011-12-16

Female talent remain a huge untapped potential, also at the top.

Recruiting and retaining women in science
 and technical fields is one of the key success factors for the European 2020 Strategy. But, putting women’s’ talent to use is not only a concern for science but for all sectors of the economy in all countries. The logic is straightforward. Talent generates ideas that can generate products, services and competitiveness, which in turn leads to prosperity. Since women makes up ½ of the potential talent pool the more women involved the higher the probability of prosperity.

Female talent and prosperity

The WEF Gender Gap Corporate Reports illustrates how nations’ competitiveness depends on whether and how it utilizes its female talent.  The parts of the world where women are treated as second-class citizens are not surprisingly also the least competitive and prosperous ones. As one of the primary emerging markets China is rapidly closing the gender gap. Tens of millions of young women are moving into factories in fast growing city areas or attending the highly competitive universities. Although few women make to the upper echelons of Chinese private and public organizations things are changing fast and partly inspired by the more women-friendly cultures of foreign multinationals.

The OECD countries are at the top of the list with one exception. Japan is an outlier because it is prosperous and is not using much of its female talent. According to a recent study by Gant Thornton only 8% of CEO of listed companies in Japan are female, compared to 34% in China, 45% in Thailand, 97% (!) in the Philippines and 20% as a worldwide average. Judging from the service jobs women tend to have in Japan half of their workforce seems overqualified, under worked, under paid and is probably quite bored.

The average Japanese women working full-time earns 44% of their male peers. But then again, the Japanese economy has stalled since the crisis in 1990s and those (men) who work tend to work around the clock. One can only imagine the effect on the economy and society of welcoming and engaging the collective talent of Japanese women.

The labyrinth to the top

Women now occupy more than 40% of all managerial positions of the most highly paid executives of US Fortune 500 companies, but of those with titles such as chairman, president, chief executive officer, and chief operating officer only 6% are women. The pattern holds for other developed countries too. In the 50 largest publicly traded corporations in each nation of the European Union, women make up some 10% of the top executives and less than 5% of the CEOs and chairpersons of boards.

The more female talent in use the more prosperity? If so, what a wonderful potential for improvement!

Even in family friendly work cultures women tend to have more additional roles at home which reduce their potential to engage and contribute at work. Sweden, for example, has a well-known system of childcare, generous incentives for men to stay home with toddlers and recently also elaborate tax deductions for professional house keeping. Yet, gender imbalance still reigns at the top of Swedish organizations.

Researchers Alice Eagly and Linda Carli use the metaphor of a labyrinth to describe the challenge facing women in organizations and their research shed light on how to help women close the gap with men.  The challenge is clear:  “If we can understand the various barriers that make up this labyrinth, and how some women find their way around them, we can work more effectively to improve the situation” (Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership, Harvard Business Review, September 2007, p 64).

Women, diversity and performance

In their resent special report on women at work The Economist – in its usual bluntness – point out that the companies that are taking most action to close the gender gap are not doing it “out of the goodness of their hearts.” I agree.  Their story about how Deloitte in only a few years transformed itself from a horrible work place for women to a women-friendly employer is illustrative of both the motivation and the effort needed as well as the great benefits that can be reached from increasing gender diversity.

The business case for gender diversity is strong. A study from 2004 by Catalyst found that companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams experienced better financial performance than companies with the lowest women’s representation. Similarly, boards with at least three women directors did better than those with fewer. A much larger 2007 McKinsey study show similar results. Gender diversity means you  recruit from a wider pool of skilled workers, improve the organization’s image and enhance its marketing opportunities.

Gender and innovation

At the heart of the innovation are people willing and able to work collaboratively in teams and to exchange what they know so the team process is an appropriate unit of analysis to understand innovation. Research supports that gender balanced team are more innovative, which my own experience confirms, but only a few researchers have studied the impact of gender differences on innovation.

Findings from the  Lehman Brother Center for Women in Business at London Business School show that there are a number of critical aspects of the innovation process that are influenced by the proportion of men and women in a team. Laura Tyson and her colleges have studied factors  known to influence the innovation process in practice. For example, differences in self-confidence between men and women; personal initiative; sensitivity to others’ views; the extent to which they are able to include others; their satisfaction with their life and their career satisfaction; their perceptions of the significance of the tasks they are undertaking; and their commitment to the organization.

Not surprisingly, the perceived psychological safety is a must for innovative thinking. This is common sense to most people: If you feel threatened, run the risk of being ridiculed, or have to listen to chauvinistic jokes of simply feel uncomfortable you probably remain silent rather than put up your hand, engage in “out-of-the-box” thinking or suggest a weird idea.

Eliminating the minority experience

The problem is that gender imbalanced teams are not naturally safe and secure in the eyes of the minority. Too often, senior teams and teams tasked with innovative thinking have just one or two women as members and such “tokenism” has a negative effect on the women included and, consequently, on the performance.

From experience of male-dominated organizations I know how difficult it can be to welcome women as equal partners rather than as the token minority presence. In view of the many psychological factors shaping the sensitive innovation process the LBS research suggest that the optimal gender mix is 50/50 and, thus, more than the Catalyst study (above) suggested.

Unfortunately, that remains an imaginary number in many organizations. Herminia Ibarra of Insead, an authority on gender and leadership, says that “…when it comes to large multinational organisations the days of explicit sexual discrimination are by and large over, but what remains are pretty subtle biases … and those have proven more intractable simply because you can’t dictate them away with a policy or a practice …

Scholars Tyson and Ibarra have also found interesting differences between how men and women build relationships with others when they are in a minority. When men are in minority they network with others in the group, but when women are in a minority they network outside the team. When women are in a minority they build stronger networks with other women, not men, throughout the organization.

Conclusion? To improve the potential for innovation eliminate minority experiences by actively constructing teams with equal proportions of men and women.

The long march

Men may be from Mars and women from Venus and those differences should be treasured. But at work we are on the same planet, at work we have much in common. Today young men and women alike expect to be able to develop their full potential at work and achieve a work-life balance. They don’t expect to get lost in a maze of gender-based hurdles to reach the top in private and public organizations.

In many countries, including my own Sweden, women today account for a majority of university graduates and, therefore, they represent the most advanced talent pool available for organizations. The moral and business cases for increasing gender diversity and decreasing gender gaps are clear, at least in countries that do not treat women as second class citizens.

The governance case ought to be equally clear. We know from the data that, everything else equal, giving women the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as men in companies will boost innovation, competitiveness and prosperity.

The Economist lists several reason why professional women do not reach the top. Work remains structured to suit the man-as-breadwinner model, which do not fit women. Having babies and caring about them (!) obviously have an impact on careers. Women tend to be less self-confident than men and “do not put their hands up” like men do. Women are also more honest than men, at their own peril. Discrimination against women, like Ibarra said above, continues in subtle ways.

But the problems is even deeper. My former college Lynn Roseberry, who I appointed Chief Equal Opportunity Officer at Copenhagen Business School, summarizes it as a profound leadership challenge.  Her idea is that effective and responsible leadership requires knowledge about gender differences, stereotypes and the ability to challenge these. The problem, she says, is that these knowledge and skills are not taught. Neither in business schools nor in other executive courses. Having worked at four business schools in different countries and contributed to many more, I agree.

The lack of such leadership seems to be inherent in the way corporations have been structured since the early 20th century. Already in the 1970s Elisabeth Moss Kanter noted that the higher up in the hierarchy the more you rely on personal discretion and trust based on social relationships with co-managers. She labeled this “homo-social reproduction” and the consequence is that men-leaders are choosing more men to work with because they trust each other.

Lynn is determined to challenge this paradigm and, in her view, this requires the rare kind of transformational leadership called “authentic” and one that also includes gender as part of the system – “gender-authentic leadership.”

I look forward to helping her.


The Lost European Dream

2011-12-15

The Lisbon Strategy have failed but the intentions must remain.

In 2004 Jeremy Rifkin optimistically described the emergence and evolution of the European Union and presented it as an alternative to the philosophical, social, economic and political system of the US. He contrasted the “harder” American Dream of individual accumulation of wealth with the “softer” connectivity and respect for human rights that he argued defined the European alternative. Rifkin argued that the European soft power should be able to win greater influence in the long-term at considerably less expense. Europe, once more he said, would have critical importance to the global future but this time as a positive force for humanity.

This optimistic thesis The European Dream reflected real progress among the member countries at that time.  With new members lined up and plans drawn up for further monetary, political and social integration it is easy to understand the hope the EU inspired throughout the world. In fact, in many parliaments and boardrooms at that time decision makers throughout the world expected Europe to invent a new industrial model that would result in a better world than the one known from the industrial revolution and manifested by the hard capitalism of the US.  Rifkin summarized his hope: Europe has become a giant laboratory for rethinking humanity’s future and the world is watching. The contrast with the sad European realities of today is striking.

The good intentions of the Lisbon Strategy

Let’s go back a decade when the renowned Lisbon Strategy (or Agenda) from 2000 boosted the EU self-confidence. At that time European leaders realized that innovation is the engine of economic change, that knowledge-based economic development is a must and that sustainability ought to become a basic parameter of economic development.The EU leaders boldly stated that:

  1. The European Union is confronted with a quantum shift resulting from globalisation and the challenges of a new knowledge-driven economy. These changes are affecting every aspect of people’s lives and require a radical transformation of the European economy. The Union must shape these changes in a manner consistent with its values and concepts of society and also with a view to the forthcoming enlargement.
  2. The rapid and accelerating pace of change means it is urgent for the Union to act now to harness the full benefits of the opportunities presented. Hence the need for the Union to set a clear strategic goal and agree a challenging programme for building knowledge infrastructures, enhancing innovation and economic reform, and modernising social welfare and education systems.

The aim of the Lisbon agreement  was to make the EU “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” by 2010. Yesterday  I quoted this sentence to a visitor from Asia and we both agreed it felt a bit odd to even say it in view of the current Euro mess.  Never-the-less, at that time this strategy intended to strengthen the EU economy, create employment and promote social policies in line with Rifkin’s softer approach, which would drive economic growth even more. All in all, the Lisbon Agenda resulted in many new policy initiatives to be taken by all EU member states and has been the foundation for the development of the EU over the last decade. And it did strengthen Europe but in an uneven way.

The end of the party

In 2007, the EU was still celebrating a welcome economic upswing after five years of positive growth and optimism. In a region long blighted by joblessness, the rate of unemployment had fallen to its lowest level since the early 1980s. But then the international crisis hit. So profound was the crisis that many of the Lisbon Agenda’s key targets and principles have been loosened or suspended. The consequence is that less than only seven years after Rifkin’s book was published our decision makers have been unable to realize the many good intentions from Lisbon. The European Dream has become a reality only for a few, an illusion for some and nightmare for many. As I write this article the COP 17 meeting in Durban is heading for another mega-disappointment and the EU leaders are alone in their want to do more than the Kyoto Protocol calls for.

Already in the 2008 Simon Tilford and Philip Whyte published the report Lisbon scorecard: How to emerge from the wreckage in which they provided a harsh analysis of the performance of the Lisbon strategy. “Picking through the wreckage of the past year, it is legitimate to ask what remains of the EU’s Lisbon agenda”  they bluntly said in their introduction. The implicit assumption of the Lisbon strategy was that Europe’s main challenges are on the supply side, but that doesn’t make sense. Leaning on Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman they argue that while supply side factors are the key determinants of a country’s prosperity, measures to improve the supply side will “…do little to lift the EU (or the rest of the world) out of its current hole.”  Why? Because the short-term challenge is the demand side and the Lisbon Agenda doesn’t provides any tools for influencing  business cycles, demand and the global dynamics driving it. Today, three years after this report, virtually all EU governments continue to struggle with this demand side.

How do the EU countries score a decade after Lisbon? With some Scandinavian exceptions, the 2008 performance was less than encouraging. In the words of the authors: “No honest assessment of the Lisbon agenda can ignore two inconvenient facts. The first is that the EU as a whole will not meet any of the targets it set itself in 2000. The second is that the gap between the best and worst performing EU countries is arguably larger now than it was when the Lisbon agenda was launched. There is no evidence that the situation have improved after 2008, on the contrary.

The implication of their finding is that countries that fail to make progress on their Lisbon targets are likely to suffer from weak levels of productivity and employment: “…countries which fail to reform will condemn themselves to lower living standards”.  Adding pain to injury, the public finances of such countries will make them more exposed to rising income inequalities flowing from increasing globalization and technological change. Not surprisingly, the “villain” (versus “heroes”) group of countries in their analysis of Lisbon performance is remarkably similar to the EU group of nations sarcastically named “PIGS,” which are now in desperate need of financial assistance to avoid bankruptcy.

The education agenda

It is difficult to argue against the good intention of the Lisbon strategy. Innovation, deregulation and life-long learning are key to nations’ competitiveness, economic growth and social cohesion in any part of the world. Much empirical research has  shown that education raises labor productivity, but the link between higher education and innovation is a weak one (as illustrated by Sweden and Denmark). Far from all research generates viable innovations and far from all people with higher education innovate, but more many other reasons  investment in education are always valuable for nations.

In view of global competition many European countries need to continually upgrade the level and quality of education of its citizens.  Globalization, technological development and the inclusion of a large portion of the world into the world economy simply calls for it and an increased education level is also essential to maintain social cohesion in our societies. Unfortunate, the Lisbon Scoreboard shows that many  EU countries – particularly in Southern and Central Europe – are not doing well on this dimension.  Tough but necessary austerity measures are not the best driver of this strategic agenda, however.

The OECD program for international student assessment (PISA) shed light on how well students in the OECD countries are prepared for future challenges in terms of their abilities to analyze, reason and communicate effectively. The key question is to what extent they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life, very much in line with the Lisbon strategy. The findings, however, are as sobering as the Lisbon Scorecard because they show how European countries, with the exception of Finland, are lagging behind. It is not surprising that governments even in high-performing countries like Denmark and Sweden are driving significant reforms through parliament to improve their educational systems.

A new dream?

Despite the sad picture from the Lisbon Scoreboard its policies remain necessary to increase EU’s long-term competitiveness in view of the global competitive onslaught from BRIC and other countries. Together China and India represent 1/3 of the population (read: potential brain power, consumers, entrepreneurs, innovations, etc.) on this planet and their priority is not always the softer values of the Europeans. In Europe we have no choice but regard the current difficulties with the Euro zone as a self-inflicted hick-up in the bigger picture, get our act together and increase the speed of reforms needed to boost the quality of education, research and innovation.

The last time I was in India and China their Dreams were clear and present. When the current nightmare is over it is high time for a new European Dream.