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European education and training priorities redefined

A draft joint report of the European Council and the Commission sets new priorities for European cooperation in education and training as part of the strategy for education and training (ET 2020). The Council is expected to adopt the report by the end of the year.

Established in 2009, ET 2020 is a forum for the Commission, who coordinates the process, Member States and education institutions to exchange best practice, information and advice on policy reforms.

The proposed new priorities are:

  • Relevant and high-quality skills and competences, focusing on results, for employability, innovation and active citizenship;
  • Inclusive education, equality, non-discrimination and promotion of civic competences;
  • Open and innovative education and training, including by fully embracing the digital era;
  • Strong support for educators;
  • Transparency and recognition of skills and qualifications to facilitate learning and labour mobility;
  • Sustainable investment, performance and efficiency of education and training systems.

Developments and challenges

The report identifies various developments and challenges in European education and training, taking into account differences between Member States. Among others it states:

Quality and relevance of learning outcomes is key for skills development. To increase employability, innovation and active citizenship, basic competences must be supplemented by other key competences and attitudes, including creativity, entrepreneurship and sense of initiative, digital skills, foreign languages etc.

While 16 Member States have put in place comprehensive lifelong learning strategies, all countries should develop such strategies and ensure permeability between various forms and levels of learning, and from education and training to work.

Measures reducing early school leaving have been introduced by all Member States, but do not always add up to a comprehensive strategy. A successful response requires long-term commitment and cross-sector cooperation.

Vocational education and training (VET) graduates show good employment rates in most Member States. Apprenticeships and dual VET schemes are particularly important as they ensure relevant skills which make transition to the labour market easier. Member States have taken many measures to implement the deliverables defined in the Bruges Communiqué (2010) to improve VET performance, quality and attractiveness, with an emphasis on work-based learning. For the next work cycle, promoting such learning should continue, while reinforcing the European alliance for apprenticeships and strengthening anticipation of skills needs for the labour market. Medium-term deliverables, as defined in the Riga conclusions in June, have sharpened the focus and are limited in number.

Recent trends on low basic skills of adults and high unemployment rates make it necessary to reinforce the implementation of the European agenda for adult learning. Priorities should include more effective governance, significant increases in supply and take-up, a more flexible offer, broader access, closer monitoring and better quality assurance.

Education and training 2020 governance has improved since the 2012 joint report and there is a consensus that strong analytical evidence and progress monitoring are essential for the effectiveness of the ET 2020 framework. This will be done in cooperation with Eurostat, Eurydice network, Cedefop, OECD and other organisations.

Many Member States report measures for enhancing teacher training. Educators should be trained to deal with the growing diversity of learners, prevent early school leaving and use innovative pedagogies and ICT tools in an optimal manner, while enjoying induction support early in their careers.

The first mobility scoreboard (2014) reveals that the environment for learning mobility varies greatly between Member States. Actions on transparency, quality assurance, validation and recognition of skills and qualifications have to be tracked and pursued. Better data are needed for evidence monitoring on mobility.

Transparency and recognition tools are essential for mobility, employability and lifelong learning, as well as to ensure the use of qualifications acquired outside the EU. Most Member States have developed national qualifications frameworks and have referenced these to the European qualifications framework (EQF). Further work should promote a shift from transparency to recognition across Europe, by strengthening the role of the EQF and promoting the validation of non-formal and informal learning. Particular attention should be given to simplifying and rationalising existing EU instruments on skills and qualifications directed to the wider public to strengthen outreach.

Need for better skills

EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility Marianne Thyssen said: ‘Youth employment is a top priority for this Commission. Relevant and high-quality skills are needed more than ever to find a job today. Better cooperation in education and training will help to raise skills and competence levels to tackle skills mismatches and thus support young Europeans to successfully enter the labour market.’   

The report proposes to set the new priorities for five years, replacing current three-year cycles, to enable a longer-term impact.

Cedefop Director James Calleja reiterated the agency’s commitment to continue supporting the Commission, Member States and social partners in implementing the strategic objectives of the joint report. ‘It is no coincidence,’ he said, ‘that Cedefop is cited so much in the report because our activities are more than ever before spearheaded by the need to think European, but also to support national initiatives and address unemployment at its roots: the need for better skills and more relevant education and training provision. The European education and training context should be applied as a catalyst for stronger VET for better lives.’