Europe cannot afford to lose talent

How can higher education in Europe work together to help the talents of today develop themselves into the excellent professionals of the future? A group of people dedicated to advancing this agenda met last week to write a plan to support this agenda.

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In inspiring surroundings in the Danish town of Sorø, board members of the European Honors Council (EHC) were joined by Danish representatives of Metropol University College and our hosts at ScienceTalenter. Meeting place was the magnificently equipped Maersk McKinney Møller Videncenter, where young science talents from all around Denmark regularly meet for science camps, usually lasting three or four days.

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Baseline                                                                                                                                                 There is so much to do to advance the talent agenda, where to start? The first day was spent exploring ideas, comparing them and finding common ground. On the second day decisions were made, plans worked out and working groups formed. The baseline is simple: Europe cannot afford to lose talent. But making a coherent plan to put this into practice is not easy. After two exhaustive days of talking, the first snow of the season started falling, turning Sorø into a winter wonderland where teenagers from a science camp were having a friendly snowball fight.

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Exchange                                                                                                                                                   On the next (and last) day focus shifted from generating ideas to exchanging ideas. The group moved to Copenhagen for a double visit. First we were received at the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. They are thinking of new talent development strategies and were keen on hearing European experiences. In return, they gave an update on Danish policy developments and presented an interesting study (in Danish only) by the Danish Evaluation Institute, mapping all talent development initiatives in higher education in the period 2004-2015. In one graph, they showed the development of the number of programs in relation to policy changes. For a period, government-supported and -financed talent (or ‘elite’) programs at the master level flourished. But once financial support ended, a lot of these programs disappeared again. Meanwhile, the number of talent programs at the bachelor level (which did not receive the same amount of support), kept slowly but steadily increasing.

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Off we went again, and a quick taxi ride brought us to our second destination: Metropolitan University College, or Professionshøjskole (PH) Metropol in Danish. Dean Henrik Busch received us and briefed us on the institution’s strategic plan, which sounded very to-the-point. Then we were shown the brand new facility ‘House of Practice and Innovation’, where a realistic and interdisciplinary milieu of training and simulation for students of all educations is created. For example, it includes a mini-hospital, equipped with a lot of sensors and cameras, where scenarios can be played out and recorded, to be evaluated later. The same goes for an apartment, where for example social work students can play a scenario of a family visit.

Then rector Stefan Hermann joined us and we concluded with an exchange of ideas about how to advance the talent agenda in the Nordic countries. Hermann is the expert on this issue, having headed the Danish government’s working group on talent in 2011, and having just served on the Norwegian committee which produced this country’s first-ever government-initiated report on the needs of the talented and gifted.

What was the main lesson learned in these three days? It takes some time to realize that despite differences in terminology and national (policy) contexts, there is common ground and there are shared goals. But if you take this time and find a common language, a whole world of possibilities for cooperation, exchange and development opens up. The EHC can be a fine tool in facilitating this process.

Written by Maarten Hogenstijn, senior researcher Hanze UAS and secretary of the European Honors Council. With many thanks to our friendly Danish hosts at ScienceTalenter, the ministry and PH Metropol; and to Marleen Eyckmans for the first two photos.

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