IV International Rectors’ Meeting UNIVERSIA


Remarks by Ángel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Salamanca, Spain - 21 May 2018

(As prepared for delivery) 



Your Majesty, President Rebelo de Sousa, Dear Ana, President of the Council of Castile and Leon, Rector Barbieri, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is my honour to be here with you today to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the University of Salamanca. And what better way to celebrate the occasion that by this meeting of rectors! I would like to thank Santander for their support for the Universia initiative, which for years has been the benchmark for improvement and progress of higher education in Ibero-America.


Today we pay homage to a university, a university that, although one of the oldest such establishments in Europe, is also a modern institution that has proved capable of evolving and adapting to new trends.


In a globalised world undergoing rapid and profound change, universities are a benchmark for a knowledge-based society because they help to shape future generations, drive innovation and promote the acquisition and transmission of knowledge. But, first and foremost, they are pioneers, compasses and guides in the construction of a better world.


Universities are also vital because they are the factories that hone our young people’s talents and skills. Therefore, it is vital for countries to develop skills strategies that draw on them as well as on the private sector, trade unions and employment agencies in order to link our higher education systems to the labour market. The OECD has worked with Spain, Mexico and many other countries in this area. And it is a crucial area, because a high percentage of our young people graduate only to come face to face with a labour market that offers them very few opportunities. The evidence in our Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is unequivocal in that regard.


This is a matter of priority for the OECD because an ever-increasing number of young people are receiving higher education. In the OECD countries, the average number of graduates rose from 22% in 2000 to 36% in 2016, and the increase is even greater among younger adults aged between 25 and 34, of whom 43% had a tertiary qualification in 2016. Additionally, higher education has become internationalised. The number of foreign students has grown exponentially in just one generation, from 0.8 to 4.6 million since the late 1970s.


Today’s challenge is to sustain the pace of these changes while maintaining a high quality of higher education and research that is also relevant to economic and social needs. In response to these concerns, the OECD has launched the Enhancing Higher Education System Performance initiative, based on two key strands of work: international comparisons and in-depth analysis.


Under the first strand, we collect data and evidence on best practices. This allows countries to compare their performance and develop bespoke strategies. Estonia, the Netherlands and Norway are participating in the first round.


The first topic of in-depth analysis focuses on the labour-market relevance of higher education systems, with Norway and Mexico acting as pioneers. We are beginning a second project on the cost of higher education, its efficiency and effectiveness.


Ladies and Gentlemen:

The event ahead makes Miguel de Unamuno’s words more eloquent than ever: ‘Do not proclaim the freedom to fly, but give wings; not to think, but to give thought. A cultured mind is the freedom that people need.’ We are ready to work with you all to improve higher education and thereby contribute to a better, more inclusive future. I wish you all a very productive meeting. Congratulations to Universia on this initiative, and above all, congratulations to the University of Salamanca!



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