Foreign students strengthen the EU

Bellarminus Kakpov and Fatma Abidi at today's press conference. Photo: EBS

Today, I presented a proposal aimed at facilitating the access to the EU for students and researchers from third countries. I was accompanied by Fatma Abidi and Bellarminus Kakpovi, two guest researchers in the EU, who shared their experiences on the difficulties of reaching to where they are now.

Approximately 200.000 foreign students and researchers come to the EU each year. They are often very talented people, who enrich their own education through this exchange, but also contribute positively to the EU through their knowledge and experiences. There is now an unfortunate trend in the decrease of the number of students and researchers arriving in the EU. The bureaucratic obstacles are a problem for the competitiveness of the EU, causing gifted researchers to look for opportunities elsewhere. As a consequence, we are missing people who could have contributed to development, growth and innovation after having finished their studies. In the EU today, despite the financial crisis and high levels of unemployment, there is already a shortage of people within e.g. engineering, health care, biotech and IT.

The proposal that I presented on behalf of the Commission today, contains proposals on how the EU could better appeal to students and researchers. No one should have to wait more than two months on a decision on residence permit or visa. Foreign students shall have the right to work in parallel to their studies, which is now forbidden in e.g. Luxembourg and Lithuania. After having completed their education, students and researchers shall have the right to remain in Europe for a year to look for jobs or start their own company. As the situation is today, these accomplished students leave almost the same day as they graduate.

We need well-educated people, no matter if they are European or third country nationals. They can start new companies, or enter into key positions in already existing companies, and thereby creating new investments and new jobs. We need strategic people in the development towards growth and competitiveness. I am proud that the EU Commission is showing leadership on this matter with this proposal to attract more students and researchers. Fatma Abidi from Tunisia shared her story on how her exchange has led to a collaboration on the issue of research on agriculture between the ULB University of Brussels and the University of Carthage in Tunisia. These kinds of initiatives can create jobs, further exchange of knowledge, and new research in both countries.

To strengthen the competitiveness of the EU, we have earlier assessed how to raise the quality of education in Europe. This is not within the competence of the EU to control, but we have made recommendations on how to improve the 4 000 universities throughout Europe. One important aspect is also to further improve the compulsory school, so that students have the knowledge and the tools necessary to continue their studies at university level. The Erasmus programme is also being evaluated and improved, to further increase the mobility of students within the EU.

More interesting reading: International Herald Tribune today about how Canada wants to attract international students, and more on the proposal on the Commission’s website.

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