Yesterday, 24 November, the STEM Alliance conference: Skilling up the next generation for an innovative Europe – together! was held in Brussels under the auspices of the Pact4Youth, a mutual engagement of business and the European Union leaders, initiated by CSR Europe, to support youth employability and inclusion. The meeting was co-chaired by Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, and Viscount Etienne Davignon, Belgian Minister of State and President of CSR Europe. The Lifelong Learning Platform was represented by its President, David Lopez.
Business and political leaders, as well as other involved stakeholders representing the educational sector and youth put forward the proposal to “make business-education partnerships the “new norm” across Europe.” Some of the targets set to be reached by 2030 are for instance ensuring that all teachers benefit from a business-education partnership to enhance their leadership and professional development. Schools are also encouraged to follow-up on their graduates, as a means to measure better the success of the education they have received.
The Lifelong Learning Platform joined the initiative in its early stages last year, namely on the basis of the means proposed to reduce the skills gap (point 3), which include proposals to help students develop their key competences (basic skills, transversal competences and soft skills), develop high quality vocational education and training, as well as apprenticeships. The Pact contains elements encouraging inclusiveness and diverse participation in education across gender, minority ethnic groups, young people with disabilities, and attention to early leavers from education and training.
While the Platform welcomes the initiative and has been contributing to it since its first year, we regret however that the businesses carrying the Pact are still almost exclusively multinational companies, in spite of the fact that small and medium enterprises represent no less than 95% of European companies, providing over 88 million jobs. The Platform asks if the targets set do not in fact only benefit big companies, and if measures will be taken to support SME participate in building the bridge between education and the labour market.
Although we agree with the urgency of reducing the skills gap, we also hope the alliance will not take a direction where education is tailored for the labour market’s current needs, failing to acknowledge the role of education in helping learners develop transferable and adaptable skills, especially in a fast-changing society and economy. Building partnerships between businesses and educational institutions should not either be justified by the fact that young people are “not directly employable.” Businesses should support young people pursue training once they enter the world of work: education is a continuous process that cannot deliver on all needs in the short time that concludes in graduation. In this sense, initiatives such as graduate tracking by which “each school measures its success by what becomes of its graduates,” hugely undermine the broader purpose of education.
The Lifelong Learning Platform supports the call to tighten the link education to the world of work. Employment is a key element to building inclusive societies, and education should support individuals develop competences that will allow them to actively participate in society, namely through employment. This is one outcome of education, but there are many others that should not be overlooked for the sake of economic competition. Innovation is also the fruit of individuals’ imagination, which cannot be harnessed in a supply and demand logic. And just as research proves that learning outcomes are greater in a learning environment that places cooperation above competition, private investment should only be supplementary to public funding to guarantee education remains a common good.