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Modernising education and training systems : a vital contribution to prosperity and social cohesion in Europe

The European Commission has adopted today its contribution towards the 2006 Joint Council/Commission progress report on the implementation of the “Education and Training 2010” work programme. The Commission’s Communication is based on national reports from the participating countries themselves. It takes stock of progress at national level towards modernising and adapting education and training systems in view of the Lisbon goals. The report notes that reforms are going in the right direction, and that there are positive developments such as lifelong learning increasingly becoming a key feature of national policies, and the early achievement of the EU 2010 benchmark on increasing the number of maths, science and technology graduates. The Commission identifies a lack of progress, however, against the other European benchmarks fixed by the Education Council in 2003, and which relate more specifically to the development of the knowledge-based society. In particular, the draft report warns that unless substantial progress is made in the coming years in ensuring that young people leave school with the qualifications and key competences they need, and that more adults take part in lifelong learning, increasing numbers of people will face social exclusion, at great cost to themselves, the economy and society as a whole. The reforms called for under Education and Training 2010 are therefore vital for the long-term sustainability of the European social model. In this context the Commission stresses that greater efficiency in education and training systems should not be sought at the expense of equitable outcomes for all.

1. What is the “Education & Training 2010 work programme”?

The Education and Training 2010 work programme was agreed by the European Council in 2002 as a major contribution towards the Lisbon strategy[1]. The work programme is aimed at modernising and adapting education and training systems in view of the challenges of the knowledge-based society, globalisation and demographic changes. It is based on the strategic goals and concrete objectives of education and training systems in Europe, agreed by the Education Council in 2001, and also integrates the follow-up to the 2002 Council resolution on lifelong learning, which stressed the need for all Member States to develop coherent and comprehensive strategies for lifelong learning. Education and Training 2010 also integrates specific actions for vocational education and training (the “Copenhagen process”) and higher education (including the results of the “Bologna process”), as well as the follow-up of the 2001 recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council on mobility. The final report will be the second joint progress report since the work programme was approved in 2002 by the European Council, as a major contribution towards the Lisbon strategy. It will be adopted by the Council in February 2006.

2. What are the EU’s priorities in the field of education and training?

The first progress report – the “Joint Interim Report” of the Council and the Commission, adopted in February 2004, identified the main challenges facing Member States in this field. This report stressed the urgency of reforming Europe’s education and training systems in order to ensure the success of the Lisbon strategy, noting that too little progress was being made against the commonly agreed objectives and benchmarks, despite the efforts being made by Member States, and the different starting positions. Overall, the EU does not invest sufficiently in its main asset: its human resources. The 2004 report identified the three “levers for success” as being:

focus reforms and investments on the key areas;
put in place lifelong learning strategies in all Member States by 2006;
further develop the Europe of education and training, including the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), and other common references such as the Key Competences Framework.
The Joint Interim Report also established a biennial reporting process, based on contributions from the participating countries, and a Joint Report from the Council and the Commission, in order to monitor progress on implementing E&T2010.

3. What has been achieved since the adoption of the last report?

The Commission’s analysis of the 2005 national reports shows that reforms are going in the right direction, and that the Lisbon strategy is a factor in national education and training policy development. There are signs that a sustained public effort is being made throughout the Union and in some areas is beginning to reap rewards, for example in relation to the early achievement of the EU benchmark on increasing the number of maths, science and technology graduates (by 15% compared to the 2000 level).

In addition, many – but by no means all –countries have now developed lifelong learning policy statements, for example strategy documents or national action plans. Others have put in place framework legislation. This is a positive step forwards since 2003, notwithstanding the fact that strategies still tend to lack coherence and comprehensiveness (i.e. they tend not to involve all relevant stakeholders, and do not always cover all levels and dimensions of the systems).

However, the other benchmark areas represent a real challenge for the EU:

Only about 10% of adults in the EU, aged 25-64, take part in lifelong learning, representing some progress since 2000, with significant variations between countries.
Almost 16% of young people in the EU still leave school early, reflecting only slight progress towards the EU 2010 benchmark of 10%.
Nearly 20% of 15 year-olds continue to have serious difficulty with reading literacy, reflecting no progress since 2000 against the EU benchmark of reducing the share by one fifth.
77% of 18-24 year olds complete upper-secondary education, still far from the EU benchmark of 85%, despite good progress in some countries.
As far as investment is concerned, the upward trend noted between 2000 and 2002 (EU average: 4.9% of GDP in 2000, 5.2% in 2002) is a promising sign that Governments consider public expenditure in education to be a priority. Nonetheless there are large variations between countries, ranging from four to eight percent of GDP. Most Governments seem to recognise that the necessary reforms cannot be accomplished within current levels and patterns of investment. Moreover, there is little evidence of an overall increase in employer investment in continuing training.

At the EU level, the implementation and governance of the Education and Training 2010 work programme has been improved. Education and Training 2010 now integrates the various initiatives launched since Lisbon in this field, and feeds into the implementation of the new integrated guidelines for jobs and growth, under the Lisbon strategy. In particular, a focussed and relevant programme of ‘peer learning’ activities is being developed during 2005-6, whereby countries offer mutual support in the implementation of reforms through the identification of success factors and the sharing of good practice. The Key Competences Framework will provide a useful tool also in this context. In addition, progress is being made on the development of the European Qualifications Framework, and the Commission will come forward with a formal proposal in 2006.

4. What are the challenges for the future?
The national reports demonstrate that Governments are addressing of the challenges involved in modernising education and training. They refer in particular to the difficulty of securing the necessary public and private investments, and of reforming the structures and management of the systems. In this context, particular attention must be paid to the following key areas of if the reforms underway are to be successful:

Effectively combining efficiency and equity – i.e. investments in human capital, in order to be efficient in the long term, must ensure that all citizens, whatever their socio-economic background, can enjoy the benefits of high quality education and training, and contribute actively to society and the economy.
and improving the governance of the systems – in particular by developing learning partnerships, especially at regional and local levels, as a means of sharing responsibilities and costs between the relevant actors (institutions, public authorities, social partners, enterprises, community organisations, etc.).
The Commission will support national efforts by giving priority to these areas in future peer learning activities at EU level.

The Commission also calls on Member States to take Education and Training 2010 more into account in their national policy making, and to ensure that education and training have a central place in their reforms for implementing the Lisbon strategy. Equally, Member States are asked to develop the necessary statistical instruments and infrastructure for improving the evaluation of policies and the monitoring of progress.

The Commission also stresses that better use should be made of the EU structural funds for investment in human capital.

5. How do the Bologna & Copenhagen processes contribute to the Lisbon Strategy?

The Copenhagen and Bologna processes both contribute to the achievement of the Lisbon goals.

The Copenhagen process was launched in 2002 by the Education Ministers as a means of supporting the improvement of the quality and attractiveness of vocational education and training (VET) through enhanced cooperation at the European level. The ministers decided to cooperate on such areas as transparency and recognition of qualifications and competences, and quality assurance. The Copenhagen declaration asked for the development of common European references, tools and principles, which can usefully support national policies and reforms, and contribute to developing mutual trust. The Europass is an example of this. The Maastricht Communiqué of December 2004 updates the Copenhagen declaration, and introduces priorities for the reform of national VET systems, which will be followed as an integrated strand of Education and Training 2010.

The Bologna process in higher education is an inter-governmental process, which also contributes to the achievement of the Lisbon strategy. While Bologna is mainly an agenda for structural reforms (in the architecture of degrees, their internal organisation in credits and outcome-based units and their transparency), Education and Training 2010 mainly concerns higher education policy (in particular funding, governance and attractiveness).

6. What are the next steps?

The document will be presented to the Education Council on 15 November, and will be finally adopted at the Council meeting in February, under the Austrian Presidency.
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[1] The countries participating in the work programme are the EU Member States, the EFTA-EEA countries, and the candidate countries (32 in total).
Pierre Perrin-Monlouis
Pierre Perrin-Monlouis
Fondateur de Rente et Patrimoine (cabinet de gestion de patrimoine), Pierre Perrin-Monlouis est un analyste et trader pour compte propre. Il vous fait profiter de son expérience en trading grâce à ses analyses financières et décrypte pour vous les actualités des marchés. Son approche globale des marchés combine à la fois l'analyse technique et l'analyse fondamentale sur l'ensemble des marchés : crypto, forex, actions et matières premières.