1-3 Keynote speech by Mr. Bertel Haarder Minister of Education (transcribed and edited by the Scholarship Division)
First of all, I would like to thank the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund, The Nippon Foundation and the co-organizers for bringing focus to leadership in relation to education, and I would also like to thank Rector Ralf Hemmingsen for his warm welcome.
I hope you like this historic room where you have Danish history in a few paintings here, the most important parts of Danish history.
More than ever, we need well educated, strategically thinking and responsible leaders to cope with the challenges of our changing global society. As the Rector has said, I have been in politics for quite some time. My previous boss, Poul Schluter, who was Prime Minister for more than ten years, had some remarkable virtues as a leader. He had a remarkable sense of humor. Whenever he had to defend a bad case he always had a good joke, and in this country you have won the battle as soon as you can get the audience to laugh. He also knew how to help his ministers and his colleagues. He made people feel that their efforts were appreciated, and that is a key to leadership in modern times.
In modern education politics we are totally dependent on teachers, lecturers and professors. We cannot work against them; we have to work with them and for them. We have lots of problems of all sorts. We have learned in my ministry to cope with those problems in two ways. One is, of course, to change the legal framework so as to stimulate quality and create an evaluation culture. The other way, and they don't contradict each other, is to document good practice and put focus on good practice so the good practice can inspire and spread.
I put it this way. There are no problems that have not been solved somewhere. We have to find where they have been solved and how they have been solved and documented so as to develop our knowledge about what works. Globalization, of course, puts us in a competitive situation where we are challenged, but we should remember that competition, global competition, is not a zero-sum game where somebody else will lose what we gained. Not at all.
In this country many, many jobs are lost every day. They are moved to Eastern Europe, they are moved to poorer countries in the Third World and new jobs appear in their place. That is good, and even the labor unions support this because the new jobs are better than those that disappear, and those countries which take over the old jobs are also happy because those jobs are better than those they had before. So it is not a zero-sum game. It is to the benefit of us and to the benefit of our partners around the world that we improve our education, and that we get rid of some of the jobs and develop new jobs in their place.
We have always been an international society. Danes have been known as excellent sailors through history. Maybe you can see it in the painting. No, this was the worst of all defeats and the problem was that it was so cold that the Swedes could walk to Denmark and they didn't have to sail so the country was defenseless. That was in 1658. We are good friends now, although they kept the eastern part of the country.
The world is flat as stated in the title of Thomas Friedman's interesting and eye-opening book. Boundaries and obstacles to interaction across borders have been broken down. Mobility of labor will increase internationally, and that is certainly also the case in the education market. The number of students studying abroad will rise in the years to come. We have the world's highest scholarships and we have put great emphasis on allowing students to take their scholarships along with them if they want to study abroad. Next year they will not only be able to take scholarships along with them. Some of them will also be able to take money for tuition, to pay for tuition, along with them because we want to be part of the international education market and, at the same time, keep our tradition that education is free and that we even pay students to study.
We have set up a Globalization Council chaired by the Prime Minister with four ministers, including myself, the Minister of Finance, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Science. We sat for 150 hours through 24 days in this Council consisting of union leaders, employers, industrialists, university people and, as it's a tradition in this country, when you put Danes together for so long a time with beer and bread and having a nice time, they will end up agreeing on something. We ended up agreeing on 350 proposals of which 187 concerned education.
We studied all the growth layers in the Danish society and we also found some money to improve the growth layers in a quite unusual way because in the same months the government and the opposition, the Labor Party, agreed to postpone the pension age; from year 2022 for the early pension age, and from 2027 for the normal pension age. Because we have postponed the pension age we don't have to save as much money for the other needs as we would have needed otherwise. That money we saved we immediately spent on education, research and innovation.
My colleagues in the European Union Ministerial Council asked me if I'm mad or something. Did we really have a council with union leaders and employers and everybody, and did we really have a broad agreement to postpone pension ages? Yes, we did and we spent the money right away on investments in education and research and innovation. By doing that we also lived up to the EU agreement to spend 3 percent of the GDP on research out of which 1 percent should be public money. We now live up to that as one of quite a few countries.
Successful innovation depends on more than just allocation of funds. We also need to ensure ways of cooperation between the research community, education, business and industrial leaders. We need to see education as interactive, flexible and dynamic, yet comprehensive, and this approach applies to education from the very beginning. So we must encourage teachers in our schools to include innovation and creativity in their teaching. Next year we are going to give a prize to the best teacher in that area to put focus on it.
Some years ago a teacher in a school in Jutland made a project with his class of 14-year olds. They invented a solar-driven stove. The stove is now being sold at low cost to people in South Africa, to those who do not have electricity. I saw it when I visited Cape Town in the autumn. This shows us that it is possible to teach innovation skills even in primary schools.
In upper secondary schools we have many competitions for talented students in different fields. Some schools have begun to offer special levels for ambitious students. We now not only talk about the elite among students, we also want to do something for them and try to create public consensus that it is important for the country as a whole that those who are specially gifted develop their talents. We should support and further the entrepreneurial spirit among the young generation. The point of departure is education, where children and young people from the very beginning learn to take responsibility, learn to cooperate, learn to ask questions, learn to challenge their own abilities and learn to look for opportunities.
We have a surprising number of foreign students in Denmark not only at universities but also at our vocational schools. In the town of Horsens in Jutland they have a vocational school with 500 foreign students. When I ask them why have they chosen to come to Denmark, the language is not easy and although they can be taught in English still it's a foreign environment, why have you chosen Denmark? What they tell me is they have chosen Denmark because we have a reputation for teaching our students to work independently on their own. That is our reputation and we want to keep that reputation.
We have, however, introduced stronger focus also on basics in our schools. We are worried that almost 20 percent never learn to read and write well enough and never learn to be able to take an education. We have really done something about that. Again, in a broad compromise, we have introduced more precise goals, more testing of three-year olds, of six-year olds, so that if they need special attention or special education we can do that earlier and not wait till the problem becomes obvious.
We are also coping with integration problems among immigrants, especially immigrant boys, as the majority never get an education, which is a problem in the long-run, also because the number of youngsters with immigrant background will triple in ten years, so we need to give them education. So we have more focus now on basic teaching particularly in our primary schools and I think we will succeed.
We have set up all the facilities needed to make that a success. Some are worried that by putting more focus on basic learning we will lose some creativity, some of the ability to work independently, but it is a deliberate goal that such a conflict should not arise and that the one does not exclude the other. But, of course, it is debated and it is good that we have this attention.
Another Danish tradition is lifelong learning. When I went to Korea in the autumn to speak at an education summit (I spoke right after Francis Fukuyama) I asked the hosts why did you choose a Danish minister, and the answer was you have a good reputation for teaching your children to work independently and for lifelong learning. It comes from history, especially the 19th century when Denmark was in great trouble and education was part of the solution. Since then, adult education has been a strong element.
In the OECD statistics, we can see that no other OECD country spends so much time on lifelong learning. In fact, if you measure how many hours citizens spend on reeducation, Denmark is way on top of the list. We are proud of that and we are trying to develop that even further. We have told the unions and the employers that if they now can negotiate a way to put money aside for education in the same way they have put money aside for pension in the earlier years, if they can make it just as normal to set money aside for education as it is to set money aside for pension, then we would place a big lump sum of money on the table. They have received this positively. The main labor union is for it so we hope that soon we have created this historic breakthrough to make education part of the labor market's negotiations.
That will greatly help solve the problem we have and particularly the problem that countries with fast developing economies have because they often have very good primary and secondary schools and everything is fine but they have a huge group of older workers who never really got the schooling they need to keep their jobs. Therefore, it is so important to make it part of the labor market agreements to set money aside for the purpose of giving also older workers a chance to develop their skills so that they can keep their jobs, and when they lose their jobs that they can get a new job.
I now will turn to the labor market prescription, the flex-security model. We have become famous in Europe for allowing our employers to hire and fire freely. That is a problem in many countries where employers are bound by so many obligations; as soon as they hire a waiter now that they do not dare fire the waiter. In this country even the labor unions accept that employers can hire and fire freely. Why do they accept it? Because we have the welfare state, because the government and the local governments take care of those who become unemployed. They get rather good unemployment benefits and they get education opportunities so that they get a new chance. So we do not put it as a burden on the employer to take care of all this. The local governments will take care of it and there is money for it.
In this way, we have turned the welfare state, which is expensive with high taxes, and in some ways there is a problem, of course, also for our economy, we have turned that into an asset. The asset is that in return for the welfare arrangements we get total freedom for employers to hire and fire, which is why in the EU this year we passed Finland. Last year we had the second most competitive economy among the EU countries. Now we have the most competitive economy among all the EU economies in spite of our high taxes. That is because of the flex-security model.
Although I know most of you are university people I would like to mention vocational education as one of the main focuses. For many reasons I would warn against a development where simply a larger and larger proportion of the population go to university, I'm not sure they will find jobs afterwards. We have rather high unemployment among certain groups of university graduates and that is, by the way, certainly the case also in Korea. I learned that. So there must be an alternative to university education, and one of the best alternatives is vocational education. We put a lot of emphasis on vocational education to make it attractive and also to have several entrances into it. One entrance is vocational schools but another entrance is apprentice jobs where you can walk right from the street into a job, and then if you're good then you have the right also to get accepted at a vocational school.
One extra element is that if we are clever and if we make room in our vocational schools for the not so talented as well as for the talented, also those who are good in physics and math, then vocational schools can also be a very important pathway to higher education, for instance, engineering studies. Danish companies are short of engineers. They would very much like particularly more practical engineers, engineers who have started as skilled workers who have been to vocational schools and then have shown talent and want to study more and then end up in an engineering college. It is very important that the entrance to the vocational schools also can be entrances to higher education, practically oriented higher education with a lot of practice.
We will develop a lot of new kinds of education in cooperation with private companies and public institutions and the test whether it's a good idea or not a good idea to create this new type of education, the test of it is if employers will take students as apprentices why do they study? If they won't, then it's a bad idea and we will close it down. If they do, then we will develop it just as much as they want. The test case is that employers will cooperate with education institutions and take students before they graduate, take them in practice jobs as interns or whatever you would call it, and pay them a salary while they are apprentices.
There is no use in having tourism in our companies. Students who are just tourists, that's no good. The whole idea of having students work in practice depends on the students being put to real work, solving real problems, and, therefore, deserving a real salary. That is proof of whether the practice is worth working with.
With these few remarks outlining some of the basic endeavors in Danish educational policies, I would like to thank again the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund for presenting a promising initiative. We will remain an active player in international cooperation. We are very happy to participate in the EU, in the OECD, in UNESCO. OECD and UNESCO have created interesting things in common, standards for student exchange, for instance. We also would like to cooperate in the Nordic context, and the initiatives taken in the context of the Asia-Europe meeting have recently shown us that it is indeed worthwhile to strengthen our relations to Asia, in particular.
When I was in the European Parliament I was happy to chair the Japan Delegation in the European Parliament. Therefore, I went to Japan regularly and made many friends in Japan, as I still have. I'm very happy that relations between Japan and Denmark are strong. The recent visit of the Danish Prime Minister to Japan clearly points in that direction. Following the meetings during the visit, further steps will be taken to enhance cooperation and exchange in the field of research and innovation, in particular.
But all these efforts will be worth nothing if they are not followed up by active participation and new initiatives at the institutional level and in the private sector. So we very much welcome initiatives like those taken by the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund funded by The Nippon Foundation. This Fund provides excellent opportunities for young people to educate themselves in an international context. They will realize how rapidly the world is becoming smaller and they will see how obstacles to interaction in the global theater are being removed. They witness the world is getting flatter as it is expressed in a paradoxical way by Thomas Friedman, as I mentioned before.
With these words I warmly thank you for having listened so patiently to me.