European society is a knowledge society. The free exchange of thought and competition for the best ideas are part of our tradition. Universities were founded in Bologna in 1088, Paris in 1160, Oxford in 1167, and Cambridge in 1209. Leading scientists and the most knowledge-hungry students have always shared information and experience, conducted joint research, and learnt from one another across national borders.
This academic exchange shapes the way in which we live together in Europe. Students spending one or more semesters abroad learn much more than just the content of the curriculum. Studying or training in another country dismantles prejudices, promotes understanding, and creates trust in other nationalities. This benefits business and the mechanical engineering sector as well. In a globalised world, it is more important than ever for employees to communicate internationally, speak different languages, and know how to deal with people from other cultures. A single labour market in Europe can only work if it is linked to a shared educational area.
Europe is a great opportunity for young – and older – people to expand their horizons through new knowledge. One framework for this is the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), which was initiated in 1999. Today, 48 countries are involved in creating compatible structures in their universities to promote exchange programmes for researchers and students. The tool for accomplishing this is the Bologna Process, which aims to make education and training compatible and enable students to change between universities and colleges throughout the entire EHEA with harmonised degrees and uniform quality standards. But education also means regional differences, and so Bologna is very much an ongoing process. A true European Higher Education Area is still a long way from becoming an everyday reality, but the ideal is there.
For Europe, and not least for European industry, it is crucial that we continue to pursue this path of cooperation. If European companies are global leaders despite the competition from Asia and North America, it is because of their ideas and expertise. In the future, we must continue to think about how to pool our experience and learn from one another in Europe. The focus is not only on study and education, but increasingly on continuing education and lifelong learning. We must not be limited by national borders, either now or in the future – because knowledge is the foundation for our prosperity in Europe.
Students in the EHEA: