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Increasing the digital competence of Europe: The “bidt-Digitalbarometer.international” study is presented in Brussels

How do things stand with regard to the digital competences of populations in different European countries? Is Europe well prepared for an increasingly digitalised society and generative AI? These questions were the focus of a bidt event on 12 March 2024 in cooperation with the Bavarian Representation to the EU. The bidt study presented there provides findings for Germany and six other European countries – and offers approaches for expanding digital participation and competences.

Five people at the panel discussion
© DPMN.be/bidt

“Increasing the digital competence of Europe in the age of generative AI” was the topic of discussion between experts at the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union in Brussels. The content was based on an empirical study by the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BAdW). The “bidt-Digitalbarometer.international” study compares the digital competences of the populations in Germany, Austria, Finland, France, Italy, Spain, and the UK. The researchers based their findings on the DigCompSAT self-assessment test, which was developed by the EU Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). This is the first time that bidt has provided representative data for this instrument from the seven countries under consideration – “an important innovation”, as Martin Ulbrich, Policy Officer at DG Connect of the European Commission, emphasised during the event.

The topic generated a great deal of interest: 160 guests attended the specialist event, including representatives from the European Commission, the EU Parliament, state representations in Brussels, and experts from academic, business, digital, and European policy areas. Korbinian Keck, representing the Free State of Bavaria at the European Union, spoke the welcome words.

You can find the complete study here:  

Large digital divide in Germany – Finland is a role model for Europe

The study concludes that Germany is lagging behind in terms of digital competences. Individual competences are considerably more dependent on socio-structural factors, such as age and gender, than in the six comparison countries – the digital divide is wider. The smaller EU countries of Finland and Austria, in particular, are performing especially well in terms of digital competences. Together with Spain and Italy, the German population is bringing up the rear in terms of digital competences.

One explanation for Finland’s good result is that, even in the lower forms, their curricula aim to teach ICT competences as cross-curricular skills. This development of competence continues into adulthood, for example via free online courses on artificial intelligence and incentives to use digital technologies in the workplace.

The authors of the bidt study are calling for greater participation in German society, for example through standardised educational opportunities such as the nationwide introduction of computer science as a compulsory subject at an early age, increased funding for further education opportunities, and greater incentives for taking advantage of them.

Judgement competence and generative AI: Challenges for Europe’s digital decade

Key results of the “bidt-Digitalbarometer.international” study were presented to the audience in Brussels. In addition to the results, the evening event also focused on exciting approaches to a solution, which were discussed in a panel discussion. On the podium were Martin Ulbrich, Policy officer DG Connect, European Commission, Dr Riina Vuorikari, Member of the Advisory Board of ALL DIGITAL, Prof. Dr Alexander Pretschner, Chairman of the bidt Board of Directors, and Dr Roland A. Stürz, Head of the bidt Think Tank. The panel was moderated by tech journalist Katrin-Cécile Ziegler.

There was consensus that digital competences need to be strengthened across the population and that the digital divide in Europe needs to be reduced. When asked who bears the main responsibility for this, different opinions were expressed: Individuals themselves were mentioned several times, but reference was also made to the importance of education systems at national level. In principle, the entire digital ecosystem must be expanded so that Europe is making itself fit for the future as part of the European Commission’s Digital Decade.

Also discussed were the effects that generative AI’s prevalence is having on a digitalised society. The influence of disinformation campaigns and deepfakes on the upcoming European elections was a central starting point of the discussion. An insight that was a common thread on the panel was that the requirements for digital competences are constantly changing. That is why critical judgement competence is essential in a world with generative AI. The lively discussion with the audience, which continued at the subsequent Bavarian get-together, showed that this topic is in step with the times.

Event participants on stage
from left to right: Dr Christoph Egle, Managing Director bidt, Dr Roland A. Stürz, Head of the bidt Think Tank, Dr Riina Vuorikaril, Member of the Advisory Board of ALL DIGITAL, Martin Ulbrich, Policy officer DG Connect, European Commission, Prof. Dr Alexander Pretschner, Chairman of the bidt Board of Directors, Korbinian Keck, Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union and Katrin-Cécile Ziegler, host of the evening.

Voices of the participating podium guests

Mastery of the latest developments in generative AI will become a key lever of Europe’s competitiveness and technological sovereignty. To achieve this mastery, a significant increase in advanced AI skills in the EU must be a priority, both regarding specialized generative AI developers and knowledgeable generative AI users. A sense of urgency is necessary, because the window of opportunity offered by the technological upheaval will not stay open forever.

Martin Ulbrich, European Commission, Policy Officer Artificial Intelligence Policy Development and Coordination DG Connect

It is great to see a cross-country study to get impressions from countries on the impact of digitalization on important domains for Europeans. The focus on AI, and asking people to ponder about risks and opportunities, was interesting. I appreciated the focus on ethical and moral aspects! This goes along with the DigComp framework that talks about basic principles to keep in mind when interacting with AI systems. This can help citizens become more confident, critical, and yet open-minded users of today’s technologies, while helping mitigate risks related to safety, personal data and privacy.

Dr Riina Vuorikari, Member of the Advisory Board of ALL DIGITAL

Because AI is being used to solve fuzzy problems, the products of an AI system are never 100 per cent correct or 100 per cent incorrect. We need to have thought things through in advance when we characterise the product of a (generative) AI as “good”. And when is it good enough? What is the benchmark? And how are people to understand what good is? Everyone needs to understand that AI can also deliver incorrect results – and that, ultimately, we humans are responsible for that.

Prof. Dr Alexander Pretschner, Chairman of the bidt Board of Directors

People's digital competences play an important role for the business location, our democracy, and participation in digital life. Data from the “bidt-Digitalbarometer.international” study shows that Germany has an extensive digital competences divide compared to other European countries. Rather than resigning ourselves to that situation, we should be taking measures to reduce this divide.

Dr Roland A. Stürz, Head of the bidt Think Tank

Background of the bidt study

This study follows the “bidt-SZ-Digitalbarometer”, published in 2022. Between 1,157 and 1,734 people were surveyed on their usage behaviour and e-government, digital competences, the digital transformation of the working environment, and the topic of artificial intelligence (AI).

You can find more information about the event:

If you are interested in high-resolution press photos for reporting purposes, please contact presse@bidt.digital.

Contact person:

Press contact

Leonie Liebich

Science Communication Manager, bidt

Contact person for academic policy consultationat the bidt

Nicole Wloka

Policy Advisor & Cooperation Manager, bidt

Enquiries about the study

Dr. Roland A. Stürz

Head of Think Tank, bidt