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Visions of The Knowledge Future 2050

03 December 2015

On 30 November 2015 the Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission published a report prepared by a group of experts entitled “The Knowledge Future: Intelligent Policy Choices for Europe 2050”. The report highlights the key role that higher education institutions should play in the knowledge future and its review of the appropriate policy opportunities that could be pursued, and the pitfalls that should be avoided.

The report elaborates on challenges and opportunities that three «Megatrends» – globalisation, demographic change and technological change – represent for Europe’s research, innovation and higher education system, and suggests a number of ideas that could find a place in policy for research and innovation. 

Using a foresight approach the report reviews a world of increasing and systemic unpredictability. Accelerating technological change empowers individuals and organisations to be far more productive and destructive than ever before. National and other boundaries are eroded as links between individuals, between collectives and between countries multiply at an unprecedented pace. And whilst physical distance becomes less and less significant, vast and rapidly expanding populations are located in parts of the planet that face major resources, food and energy challenges.

In this context, it is argued that Europe’s research, innovation and higher education system lies at the core of its economic and social prospects. Alternative visions of 2050 are presented such as “A European Success” or “Europe Misses Out” – as projections of what Europe could resemble in 2050 if it does, or does not, manage well its system of knowledge transformation. The report urges speedy action by European leaders, starting with those in the European institutions who supervise knowledge policies in their many forms.

Dr John Smith, Senior Adviser to the EUA, who served as a member of the group of experts, says, “In our future world, education and research will assume ever greater importance if the complex challenges facing us are able to be met, and we know that universities’ missions must constantly evolve to tackle this need. In doing so, Europe’s universities will need more Europe not less”. 

The report offers a series of policy choices based upon three principles: an open knowledge system in Europe, flexibility and experimentation for innovation, and European-level cooperation. Finally, and importantly, it puts forward ideas for a natural and greater tightening of the links between fiscal policy and policy for research, innovation and education. On this point, the Expert Group agreed that “If there is one big idea from our work, it would be this”.

The report is available on the EC webpage. To download a PDF version of the report click here.

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