Cooperating for a swift recovery

The Prague Post

Academics and businesspeople hope to find common ground at Brno forum

The economic crisis has led many organizations to re-examine their priorities, and universities are no exception. As the crisis slowly comes to a close, how can businesses and universities work together to shift successfully to recovery?

A European Union University-Business Forum to discuss cooperation between higher-education institutions and businesses will take place at Brno’s Masaryk University Feb. 2-3. Organized in cooperation with the Czech Republic’s Education Ministry and Masaryk University, the forum will allow participants from across Europe to debate the role that higher education, businesses and public authorities can play in pulling Europe over the last economic hurdles of this crisis.

Peter Baur, an official from the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education and Culture, shared the key issues the commission would like to see discussed at the forum: “An ‘up-skilling’ of the work force to ensure that the people and the organizations are ready to fully exploit the potential of the ‘post-crisis’ period, supporting people who became unemployed due to the crisis and supporting young graduates, who, due to the crisis, cannot find their first job,” he said. “The aim of the event is to explore how higher-education institutions, business and public authorities, in working together, can contribute to a way out of the current crisis and to sustainable recovery.”

Through a variety of sessions, the forum hopes to initiate discussion on practical ways schools and businesses can be creative and use their resources to contribute to economic recovery. One session will focus on increasing the skills of employees and building new relationships with businesses, and the second will explore the long-term benefits of investing in graduates to help businesses manage in future economic turmoil. Another will focus on corporate social responsibility.

A participant list for this event wasn’t available as of press time; however, past events have seen roughly half of the attendees from universities across Europe and half from the European business community. At the last forum held in Dublin, representatives came from the Education Exchanges Support Foundation in Lithuania, the BMW Group, the University of Cologne and the Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey.

“We expect about 100 participants representing higher education, business and public authorities from all over Europe,” Baur said. “We hope to involve a good number of participants from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Exchanging ideas

Ondřej Gabriel, spokesman for the Education Ministry, says the economic crisis has severely impacted both businesses and universities and that, in turn, has affected the cooperation between the two institutions. “Even if we gradually see a little positive development, the situation will be difficult at least for some time,” he said. “Universities are affected by this situation to the same extent, especially when it comes to their graduates unsuccessfully finding a job after receiving a university diploma.”

Gabriel added that the damaging effects of the economic crisis tempt individual businesses to isolate themselves and to cut their “extra” expenses on activities that do not bring direct benefits. He says this practice can also have a huge impact on the possibilities of private investments in universities.

Baur said he hopes the conclusions reached at the forum will be disseminated across the region. “It is about the sharing of experience and good practice, about mutual learning,” he said. “The conclusions and findings of the forum will be made available on the commission’s Web site; they hopefully feed into regional, national or European initiatives.”

Sharing good practices is an integral part of this program. Examples include companies and universities working together to develop new study programs, as well as putting business representatives on school faculty boards to participate in the development of curriculum. This ensures what students are learning is relevant to the current labor market. Cooperation with larger companies often leads to students doing internships or perhaps preparing their master’s or Ph.D. theses on topics identified by the companies.

Since 2008, the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education and Culture has been looking at ways businesses and higher-education institutions can cooperate more, seeing a close relationship between the two as key to the modernization of higher education in Europe. Forums have been held in Brussels and throughout Europe to bring together key players to discuss topics ranging from continuing education and lifelong learning to curriculum development and entrepreneurship.

Enhancing cooperation

The decision to host this year’s forum in the Czech Republic was a reflection of the priorities of the Czech EU presidency, which ended last June. “One of the priorities was enhancing the cooperation between the world of education and training and the world of employers or businesses,” Gabriel said. “Since most of the presidency’s events were limited to the capital, we wanted to host the University-Business Forum outside of Prague and particularly in the sphere of academia.”

There will be another thematic forum on school-business cooperation in Brussels in March, and the EC will hold a plenary University-Business Forum in Brussels in May. Gabriel hopes hosting this forum will continue the ministry’s partnership with the EC.

“The Education Ministry has already established a very good cooperation basis with the European Commission,” he said. “The Czech presidency of the EU Council even deepened this cooperation, and we would like to not lose the pace of activities we started in various fields.”