Education key to digital transformation

Bringing digital education, research and business together will allow talent, ideas, technologies and investments to bloom, says Willem Jonker.

Since the turn of the century, the internet, high-speed networks and mobile devices have permeated our world with unprecedented speed. These digital technologies have created ubiquitous connectivity and information access that enable innovations disruptive to our industries, our cities, and more generally, our way of life. All around us, we see this digital transformation impacting every aspect of our life.

While Europe played a leading role in the development of new digital infrastructures in the 90s and early 2000s, the region’s know-how has recently been overshadowed by new players in Asia and the US. Europe counts promising digital hotspots characterised by high education levels, strong research infrastructure and skilled workforce. However, these pillars of innovation are often fragmented amongst the 28 member states, undermining the exchange of know-how, finance and human capital.

Key statistics demonstrate that Europe is not yet fully equipped to make the most of the digital age; only 53 per cent of the European workforce is digitally literate, despite the fact that 90 per cent of future jobs will demand such skills.

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There is a clear need for Europe to step up if it is to maintain its position in a fast-paced, global industry that will increasingly shape our lives. This is why at EIT Digital, our primary objective is to place Europe at the forefront of the digital economy. To do so we need an effective pan-European ecosystem that eases exchanges between national and regional innovation hubs. Bringing education, research and business together will allow talent, ideas, technologies and investments to flow. We are focused on creating this agile and innovative community; our ecosystem has grown from 30 to over 130 partners since 2010. We have operations in nine countries, with networks and outreach programmes addressing EU-28 and beyond. 

Our investment to date of €1bn in digital innovation and entrepreneurial education is already gaining traction. Our commitment to collaboration has resulted in more than 300 innovation activities, delivering 50 products and services, 80 technology transfers and creating 35 spin offs. We have supported over 200 start-ups, collectively valued at over €1bn and employing over 2000 people. We have raised a total of €68m for 80 companies. Equally important is ensuring that we are creating the next generation of entrepreneurs and upskilling our workforce; to date, we have 1500 students in our three EIT-labelled blended digital education programmes.

Looking ahead, there is much more to do and we plan a further €1bn investment over the next few years. This will address the areas of greatest challenge and opportunity for Europe in the digital field. These will include digital cities, with improved quality of urban life, including safety and mobility, due to connected and informed citizens; a global, competitive European digital industry delivering personalised goods and services at mass production costs; digital wellbeing, using digital solutions to provide improved quality of life and sustainable care and digital infrastructure providing affordable access to high performing, secure infrastructure for all European citizens and business.

Our execution of a strong portfolio of innovation and education activities in these areas is targeted to at least triple the number of products, services and technology transfers. It will increase the valuation of our scale-up portfolio to at least €5bn and to scale up the number of students enrolled in our education programmes to over 7500.

Willem Jonker is Chief Executive Officer of digital innovation and entrepreneurial education organisation EIT Digital  

Colin Marrs

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