Lifelong Learning Platform | LLLP - European Civil Society for Education

Evidence-based policy-making in education & training: a forced marriage between education and research?

August 12 – Aachen: LLLP joined the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) conference on ‘Thinking Tomorrow’s Education’.

In the renewed European context, it is timely to assess the role that evidence-based policy plays in education and, vice-versa, how research should (or should not) be used for policy-making. Research and education have always been closely linked, and it’s only natural that it is so: researchers and academia often operate in what is called the knowledge triangle: education, research and innovation.

While the new President-elect of the European Commission is keen on ‘merging’ education with research and innovation, bringing those fields closer is not only a mere political exercise. Organised civil society is also keen on a tighter partnership, as they have the same objective, i.e. to increase the relevance of education in our society. This forward-looking and long-term objective is best served by an informed and evidence-based decision-making. Such was one of the main topics of the international event held in Aachen on 12-13 August and organised by EARLI, the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction

To scatter this process, it has to be acknowledged that research in social sciences is as hard as it comes. Unlike natural sciences, conclusive evidence is an escaping and ephemeral concept. While it is fairly intuitive that a hypothetical cure for heart disease will work on every human being with a given condition, it is hard to find education policies that work in all contexts and in all moments of time. Different cultural backgrounds demand different approaches. This, of course, shall not be – by any means – a reason to tune down investments in research, but in fact, it constitutes a warning for policy-makers.

Researchers are the number-one advocates for an authentic evidence-based policy-making, a process that can be rendered definitely more efficient than it is right now. So far we have been assisting to a plethora of goodwill claims, but the research community estimates that access to policy-makers is still denied. While education policies can be tough to conceive, better involvement of academics is crucial to avoid a mere ‘paper-grabbing’ process, a bad practice that risks undermining the work carried out by researchers. After all, researches are better interpreted by…researchers! Giving academics access and opportunity to shape policy-making (and policy-makers understanding of science) should be the foundation for a Union that strives to implement its policies around scientific evidence. 

This is a two-sided process. If it is true that there is no clear-cut position as to whether research should be driven (or not) by societal purposes, one should be reminded that all research is useful. It is our job – as stakeholders in education – to find relevance and practical application. Civil society organisations could be the missing link in the chain from academia to institutions, a job that would empower all parties in a triple-win situation. 

We pledge for research, innovation and education to stay closer together. Europe needs strong academia for societal advancement, and its decision-makers not only need to adequately fund research and higher education institutions but also need to learn to make use of their enormous potential. This ‘marriage’ compels us to step up our efforts in cross-sector cooperation, to make the knowledge triangle a sustainable and inclusive reality in Europe.