EUCIS-LLL organised successfully its 4th Lifelong Learning Week from 2 to 11 December, with the support of Julie Ward (S&D, UK). The name of the Week is rightly associated with our manifesto Building together the future of learning. Namely, the topics discussed at our main events of the Week were rooted in the three pillars, focusing on the issue of efficiency and equity when it comes to funding of education, tackling exclusion and inequalities in education and training and validation of non-formal and informal learning in Europe. We gathered civil society and EU institutions representatives and researchers in order to share good practices, address future challenges and discuss next possible steps. Our Civil Society Meeting Place proved once again that the general public is interested and supportive of the concept of lifelong learning. We see this as opportunity to stress the need of adopting a holistic approach at all levels of decision-making, implementation and evaluation, in the crucial moment while the EU cooperation in education and training is being revised (ET2020 strategic Framework mid-term review).
At our round table on Efficient and equitable funding of education: A target beyond reach? on 9 December, organised with the support of Jill Evans (Greens/EFA, UK), we looked into the disparity between the call for sustainable investment in growth-friendly areas such as education, and the call for austerity measures which damages them. With the help of our speakers and the audience, we tried to find some answers, including the crucial question on how to find a balance between efficiency and equity in funding of education. MEP Jill Evans welcomed the audience and said she was happy to contribute to finding sustainable solutions to funding of education, EUCIS-LLL Vice-president Etelberto Costa‘s opened the first panel discussion on Efficiency and equity: Where and how to invest in education?. Elisabeth Gehrke, Chairperson of European Students’ Union, talked about the importance of equity in education, and stressed out how invalid the “we can’t afford it” argument is, since, OECD, among others, proved that for every euro invested in education, three euros come back. Ides Nicaise, professor and researcher at KU Leuven, added that more knowledge-based economy would reach the goal of more competitive and socially cohesive Europe, as set in the Lisbon 2000 strategy. He also emphasised the importance of investing particularly in basic skills, which turns out to be the missing pillar of the EU strategy. Early school leaving targets are insufficient to achieve equity as it concerns only a limited number of citizens whereas there are very high numbers of low-skilled adults in our societies which has a strong impact on poverty levels. He concluded by pointing out a lack of coherence between the different policies and benchmarks. Gina Ebner, EAEA Secretary General added that we must ensure education is always seen as public good. EUCIS-LLL Vice-President Etelberto Costa added that we need more dialogue on the EU level and that the only way forward for civil society organisations is to collaborate closely with researchers and policy-makers. As a part of the second panel on How to make sure education is considered as investment?, Ragnar Weilandt from the European Citizens’ Initiative “Invest in education”, mentioned as one of the challenges the fact that it is easier in political terms to cut funding to education than pensions. What we can do, as civil society organisations, is to encourage more public funds for education on the EU and national level, he added. While fostering competitiveness and growth, we must never forget social cohesion, said Paola Cammilli, Programme Officer at ETUCE. According to her, education must be meaningful beyond simple matrixes and data. ESN President Stefan Jahnke proposed raising awareness on country specific recommendations in civil society organisations and beyond. EUCIS-LLL President David Lopez concluded that our actions can only be effective if linking the national and European level. EUCIS-LLL strongly advocates for more socially cohesive Europe and more equitable funding of education. Education must not be a victim of austerity measures, it should always remain high on the priority list, since our socio-economic models rely heavily on quality education.
At our seminar on Inclusive education. Fighting inequalities in education and training, organised with the support of Julie Ward (S&D, UK), we gathered a diverse audience in order to discuss what the strategy on inclusive education could look like within the Europe 2020 Strategy. With the help of our speakers and the audience, we tried to find some answers linked to the search for balance between efficiency and equity in funding of education. EUCIS-LLL Vice-president Daniele di Mitri opened the event by reviewing the current situation in Europe. The inclusive pillar of growth seems to be forgotten in times of crisis. However, education is a tool which empowers people and ensures social inclusion and therefore plays an important role. Education is empowering people and we should devote more attention to accessibility to education for all, he continued. MEP Julie Ward (S&D, UK) welcomed the participants of the event, by stating her personal experience and how important she thinks inclusive education is for communities. Paul Downes, Director at Educational Disadvantage Centre and Senior Lecturer in Education (Psychology) at St. Patrick’s College, Dublin City University, presented his recent book ’Access to Education in Europe: A Framework and Agenda for System Change‘, where he focused on access to higher education for disadvantaged people, by studying and comparing data collected by interviewing 196 people from 12 countries. The access to higher education for socio-economically marginalised groups has not been sufficiently developed, Downes concluded. Thomas Huddleston, Programme Director Migration and Integration, “A Clear Agenda for Migrant Education in Europe”, continued by presenting the problem in the context of migrants’ education, and he pointed out the need for educators with immigrant backgrounds themselves, and educators with the knowledge of immigrants’ languages. EAEA Secretary-General Gina Ebner presented the Outreach-Empowerment-Diversity project and stressed the necessity of making learning attractive. She also added that the outreach part is the key and it needs a comprehensive approach. MEP Brando Benifei stressed that we have to take a look at the general macroeconomic and social situation which has led to rising inequalities and disengagement from politics in Europe. He highlighted the use of different, better social indicators and called for investment in education and training. Last but not least, Giuseppina Tucci, OBESSU’s Board member, presented their campaign “Education, we have a problem“, covering the topics of cost of education, education snobbery, special needs, ethnic and religious minorities, gender identity and sexual orientation. OBESSU advocates not only for equal access to education, but also equality of educational pathways and against any type of discrimination. The conclusion of the seminar is to have a follow-up meeting with all the participants interested and to come up with a concrete proposal for tackling the inequalities in education by the end of 2015. EUCIS-LLL firmly stands against the marginalisation of vulnerable groups and advocates for the opportunity for everyone to be able to access programmes regardless of their socio-economic and cultural background.
The policy debate on Validation of non-formal and informal learning: All aboard. How to reach the targeted public? on 11 December was hosted by MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP, FI). In her opening remarks, Pietikäinen stressed the role of education in developing the capacity to cope with our complex society and the role of Lifelong Learning as a prerequisite to our modern world. EUCIS-LLL President David Lopez reminded of the 2012 Council Recommendation, calling for setting up validation arrangements by 2018. He emphasised the necessity of opening up the debate on lifelong learning in the EU institutions. An overall key to success is the capacity to reach disadvantaged groups and to reinforce cooperation between researchers, practitioners and decision-makers. The first panel discussed experiences in reaching out to disadvantaged groups. Sharon Watson presented the work of WEA (UK) in the framework of SOLIDAR “Building learning societies” project. The approach of validation for community development is person-centred, starting from building trust and engagement with non-formal education as the first step. She concluded that comprehensive and flexible validation should be an individual right. Ana Contreras, president of Romani Association of Women Drom Kotar Mestipen presented the ROM-ACT Project (2013 -2014), which aims at widening access to non-formal and informal learning validation systems among Roma and Traveller women in Europe. She pointed out the importance of involving disadvantaged groups themselves in the policy-making process. Ana Claudia Valente, Researcher and Board member of CEPCEP, Portuguese Catholic University, shared recent experience from Portugal, revealing that age and educational level determine to a large extent the chances of participating in LLL. She added that reaching out to a high number (80%) of discouraged and resistant adults is crucial, as well as providing accessible and meaningful learning opportunities which benefit low-educated adults’ self-confidence and skills. The second panel discussion focused mainly on how to improve the practice-research-policy-making triangle. Chiara Rondino (EC, DG EMPL) presented the Commission views on non-formal and informal learning in Europe. According to her, the progress on validation is very heterogeneous and has three main challenges: low level of awareness and understanding among the general public, non-existing long term strategy and integration of practices and policies, and the issue of data collection (not enough data on people’s experiences in the processes). Moreover, many countries have issues with funding of education and the quality of assessment – the formal, non-formal and informal learning have to be equally treated. Claudia Gaylor (f-bb Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training) discussed German experience and highlighted that atypical educational pathways are on the rise. According to her, potential to obtain skills and qualifications needs to be upheld, adding that validation is not very high on the agenda in Germany. The position of stakeholders has to be assured while looking to other countries and their good practices. Jens Bjornavold (CEDEFOP) mentioned the European Inventory and explained there is a slow, but steady development of validation arrangements throughout Europe and both the political and general awareness have increased. Still, validation is somewhat restrained to vocational education and training, while other education sectors lag behind. Low qualified individuals are the main targets for validation arrangements.
Dr. Martin Noack (Bertelsmann Stiftung) opened the Bertelsmann Stiftung VNFIL in Europe: Learning from the best event, organised with the support of EUCIS-LLL and MEP Tamás Meszerics (Greens/EFA, HU), by shedding light to comparative study on the recognition and validation of non-formal and informal learning in Europe. He pointed out the case of Germany, which has a successful dual system, often used as a model around the world. However, the country faces serious challenges. For instance, 6.1 million people of working age do not have a formal VET degree. The current study was intended to look at elements of other systems that can be transferable, by focusing on specific elements and not replicating existing ones. In his welcoming words, MEP Tamás Meszerics (Greens/EFA, Hungary) recognised the difficulties of acknowledging non-formal and informal skills. In his opinion, the challenge is to identify and compare skills – not only in terms of employability, but also social inclusion. Prof. Dr. Nicolas SCHÖPF, University of Applied Labour Studies (Mannheim, Germany) presented the methodological procedures of the study, identifying 5 core elements: legal frameworks, financing of the validation, institutionalisation, procedures and instruments and support structures. Moreover, he discussed the quality criteria which were developed within a scale – used to compare situations in different countries in order to identify core elements. The opening was followed by good practice presentations from several countries. Janet Looney, European Institute of Education and Social Policy (EIESP), presented the legal frameworks in France; Nicolas SCHÖPF focused on the institutional and financial structures in Austria and Switzerland; ECVET expert Andrew McCoshan explored the support structures in the UK, while Matthias Haaber (Danish Ministry of Education) presented the procedures and instruments in Denmark. For example, the Swiss dual VET system with two certificates and the financial structures for VNIL are different in each canton, with a federal recommendation to provide access free of charge. The procedure is most of the time free, especially for low-income families. In other cases families or employers have to contribute. As another interesting example, a newly amended SCQF handbook in Scotland was discussed and its implications for validation process. EUCIS-LLL considers validation to be a great tool for making lifelong learning a reality for the largest number of people. From our point of view, developing validation practices is about valuing a lifelong and life-wide approach to learning by enabling an in-depth modernisation of education and training system to create open, flexible and individualised learning environments.
EUCIS-LLL would hereby like to thank all the participants of the LLL Week – you truly contributed to building the future of learning in Europe. We hope to see you again next year at the 5th Lifelong Learning Week!