In the Wall Street Journal of 28th Aug ’06, came across an Op-Ed comment on Innovation and Europe (“Innovation, innovation, innovation” by Ann Mettler, Director of Lisbon Council, a Brussels-based think tank).
It echoed a lot of thoughts and comments I have heard in various discussions on this topic. Some excerpts:
“When recently asked what his top priorities were for his country’s European Union presidency, Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen had jus three words to day: “Innovation, innovation, innovation”. A collective nod went through Europe, a continent that never tires of pledging to build a knowledge-based economy, a place where politicians incessantly talk up entrepreneurship and risk-taking…”
“Innovation European-style, on the other hand can be summed up as follows: We like the buzz of the word innovation, and we certainly want the prosperity and growth that usually comes with it. But in reality, we prefer to keep everything exactly the way it always has been. And because innovation is such a fuzzy and complex phenomenon, we thought we could attain it by simplifying it to a formula – 3% of gross domestic product spent on research and development equals innovation” and drill our officials to repeat it with prayer-like conviction. Amen.”
Complex it certainly is- but no one would argue that a large (and often overlooked) factor in this “formula” is the quality of education – particularly in schools.
So its no surprise that the article praises the Finnish school system which underwent comprehensive reforms through the 90s to move from a position slightly better than OECD average to being the top-performer in the achievement tests today.
The article pointed out that Europe spends only about half as much per college student as the US does). As I was reading it, I remembered this front-page story from the Daily Mail published just two days before (Aug 26th ’06), “Thousands of children fail to reach English and maths targets” …and remembered Boris Johnson’s lament in the Daily Telegraph, the same week, on falling interest in Science and Technology amongst University students in Britain.
So will the EU have to depend on immigrant students and researchers to make up the shortfall in science and engineering graduates? And does this have any implications for innovation? What happens if/when these researchers/ scientists decide to go back to their countries of origin…when opportunities as well as standards of living, both increase to a point where a reverse brain drain* begins? What implications does this have for national competitiveness?