11th Munich Economic Summit
May 3 - 4, 2012, Munich
"Education and Training:
The European Economy’s Best Hope"
Europe risks lagging behind globally in education: currently comprising no more than six percent of the global population and with the economic center of gravity about to shift eastward towards the dynamic economies in Asia, this seems hardly surprising. Fast-growing China alone churns out seven million university graduates every year, and the education system of the small, but efficient city state of Singapore outperforms that of its original role model, Great Britain. Europe thus has to make sure not to become a mere object of globalization by increasing its share in the production and use of the “world’s knowledge” – the term used by the former minister-president of Saxony, Kurt Biedenkopf, to denote the globally available amounts of knowledge. For that, it takes massive financial investments – this was acknowledged not only by the two Summit organizers, Hans-Werner Sinn and Jürgen Chrobog. After all, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, the costs of ignorance are higher than the costs of knowledge, which is justly said to be the only good that multiplies when shared. Against this background, the 11th Munich Economic Summit focused on the question of how to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness through innovation and reforms in education and training. More than 170 participants – experts, academics, politicians, and business representatives – met at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich for an intensive debate around these issues.
Given the wide range of topics, from pre-school education to life-long learning, not all education issues could be discussed with equal emphasis. Some important insights, however, can be taken away from the conference: Following the sobering results of the first PISA tests roughly a decade ago, education policy in Germany is moving in the right direction. Still, in order to bring about an inclusive education republic, it is necessary to continue to promote reforms that aim to increase the competition and autonomy between and among schools and universities, introduce uniform, standardized degrees, and expand pre-school education. The participants held a mostly critical view of the German multi-track school system, which they saw as preventing integration and leading to high achievement inequality – in marked contrast to the PISA champion of Finland with its common school system. There was wide agreement about the importance of teachers as mediators of knowledge; it is therefore necessary to improve their quality and pedagogical flexibility – either by raising their social status, as was advocated by Margret Suckale, Human Resources Director at BASF, or by increasing their salaries, as was proposed by the British economist Peter Dolton. In no way should teachers be burdened with education responsibilities that parents are not able, or willing, to perform without providing them with the necessary skills and competencies – this view by Kurt Biedenkopf was also widely shared. Comparing the Anglo-American system of tuition-based higher education and the largely tuition-free model in continental Europe, the advantages of the former (more highly motivated students, better teaching and supervision, high-class research) were juxtaposed to the advantages of the latter (wider education opportunities, lower student loan debt), with even American participants criticizing the horrendous debt of American college graduates, totaling 1 trillion USD, as a negative outcome of their system. Both panelists and participants clearly recommended to export the German “dual training” system, whose success is unrivalled worldwide when it comes to training young skilled workers. As Professor Sinn pointed out, its big, structural advantage is that it guarantees high youth employment. Youth unemployment in Bavaria, for example, is at a mere 2.3 percent, whereas in some Southern European countries such as Spain it is close to 50 percent.
Many of the perfectly legitimate calls for education reform, which were discussed at the Summit, were made primarily with an eye to its economic usefulness. In his dinner speech, Kurt Biedenkopf emphasized, however, that the “economization” of education must only go so far: In his view, education comprises much more than skills or technical training for the labor market; it also helps develop an individual’s personality more generally and as such also contains the elements of “culture and religion,” which are indispensable for tapping the “world’s knowledge.”