Challenge for Europe

EU: On the way to the knowledge economy

In March 2000, the European Council adopted the Lisbon Strategy which aims to “make Europe, by 2010, the most competitive and the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.” This strategy has many aspects but the main goals are to:

  • raise spending on research and development (goal of 3% of EU GDP);
  • introduce the European Research Area, a common market favouring the mobility of researchers and knowledge; and
  • improve the conversion of scientific knowledge into innovation.

In 2007, the Commission’s green paper on new perspectives for the ERA notes that investment research is stagnating at 1.8% in Europe (particularly due to a lack of private investment compared with Japan or the United States). It identified the need to prioritize public/private research partnerships and “reduce the fragmentation of public research in order to make it attractive to investors.”

In December 2008, the Competitiveness Council adopted its Vision 2020 for the ERA. The main objectives are:

  • to allot public finances by open competition at the heart of the ERA with the objective of “scientific and technological excellence” and push for specialisation and concentration;
  • to facilitate the development of partnerships between teaching, research, and businesses (both SMEs and multinationals); and
  • to respond to the needs of society and the necessity for sustainable development and the creation of a link between European society and its research

Culture of knowledge: the protest movement grows

The European perspective is clear: The ambition of society and its knowledge is not a bet on education and research as a public good, nor is it a first step towards the democratization of access to knowledge borne of a cautious weighing of scientific and technical choices as it was proposed to them. It can be reduced to essentially putting in place the groundwork for the construction of a common market for knowledge. If the recent addition of objectives linking science and the needs of society is interesting, it should not hide the main objective of the ERA: putting research at the service of businesses.

The damage caused by open competition in higher education and research constrained by close links to the private sector are known. We know of, among other things, the weakening of scientific independence, the dismantling of the public research system, the basing of research priorities on the profitability of businesses, the precarious nature of work and study conditions, the surge in inequalities of knowledge, and the distancing of citizens from the scientific and technical decisions that affect them.

An appeal for a European movement against the Lisbon strategy as it concerns matters of higher education and research, entitled We do not want a market for knowledge! was launched in France by a number of organizations and was answered in Germany and Italy. They foresee the organisation of an anti-summit in mid-march 2010 during the European Council’s Lisbon 2.

Proposals

  • Universities should not submit to the rules of the market and competition in Europe. Knowledge is a common good that should benefit from special treatment.
  • Universities are a social and democratic, long-term investment. They provide a public service that should not be privatised and needs to be recognized as a public funding priority. University access needs to remain free and open to everyone.
  • The capacity for research that does not submit to entrepreneurial interests needs to be maintained and developed.
  • The logic of cooperation needs to replace that of competition in the organisation of the ERA.
  • The logic of concentration in poles of excellence should not be generally applied. It leads to the commitment of all means of research on a number of restricted hypotheses, methodologies, and research questions, often necessitating vast resources. It creates monopoly situations which seem sensible only according to a market logic, to the detriment of diversity in research strategies and objectives.
  • Diversity among research projects should be encouraged.
  • Businesses do not need to be the sole stakeholders associated with scientific and technical choices. Civil society holds non-commercial interests of indisputable importance which need to be heard and incorporated into the development of Europe’s knowledge culture
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