Tag Archives: education

New Study: Public investment on education and training in the EU: trends, challenges and future prospects

The Lifelong Learning Platform is proud to publish its study for the ongoing campaign on “Invest in ET”.

While the value of quality education and training is strongly acknowledged across EU Member States, it remains the case that public expenditure has failed to recover to pre-financial crisis levels at the EU level. This paper tracks the extent to which public expenditure on education and training has changed over time and puts forth the case for a marked increase in levels of public expenditure as a necessary policy tool for addressing the economic and social fallout of Covid-19.

Check it out here.

Environmental sustainability rhymes with lifelong learning

The European Commission published its proposal for a Council Recommendation on learning for environmental sustainability. The aim of the proposal is to support Member States, schools, higher education institutions, non-governmental organisations and all education providers in equipping learners with understanding and skills on sustainability, climate change and the environment. 

What is it?

This proposal serves the European strategy to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent 

and envisions decisive actions to be taken now. The European Education Area, the European Green Deal and other key initiatives already recognise the crucial role of education and training for the green transition: this proposal builds on them to step up Europe’s commitment. Learners of all ages now need to be able to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to live more sustainably, change patterns of consumption and production, embrace healthier lifestyles and contribute – both individually and collectively – to the transformation of our societies. The Commission explicitly points at a “lifelong learning approach to learning for environmental sustainability with hands-on, engaging and action-based ways of learning which foster (i) knowledge, understanding and critical thinking (cognitive learning); (ii) practical skills development (applied learning); and (iii) empathy, solidarity and caring for nature (socio-emotional learning)”.

What for?

The Commission proposal aims to:

  • articulate a vision and shared understanding at EU level on the deep and transformative changes needed in education and training for the green transition;
  • develop a coherent approach to the competences, skills and attitudes that people need to act, live and work in a sustainable manner, strengthen the importance of lifelong learning to ensure that everybody from a young age through to adulthood can acquire those competences and skills; 
  • facilitate the sharing of policy-maker, researcher and educator expertise and best practices at system and institution level;
  • support initiatives at EU level to foster learning for environmental sustainability; and encourage investment in the above areas.

How?

The proposal recommends that Member States establish learning for environmental sustainability as a priority area in education and training policies and programmes; this will likely bring not only extra attention to this topic, but also – crucially – more funding. Among its provisions to support learners, we find that it needs to “[s]trengthen, including through financial support, high-quality lifelong learning for environmental sustainability, including traineeships, apprenticeships, volunteering, extra-curricular activities and other forms of non-formal and informal learning. Recognise and reward civic engagement in environmental sustainability”. This would mean that Europe is about to take a huge leap forward as it will recognise the active role that all forms of learning play in making human activities more sustainable, in line with its commitment to meet all Sustainable Development Goals. 

Moreover, this proposal also supports a) educators to facilitate learning for environmental sustainability, and b) education and training institutions to effectively integrate environmental sustainability across all their activities. Such ambitious objectives will hopefully steer Europe a little more on the track of environmental sustainability. To achieve them, Member States are encouraged to agree on the mobilisation of national and EU funds for investment in infrastructure, training, tools and resources. The EU programmes and financing schemes that will support the actions to be taken under this recommendation will be the Erasmus+, the Recovery and Resilience Facility, European Solidarity Corps, European Social Fund Plus, European Regional Development Fund, the Technical Support Instrument, Digital Europe Programme, Horizon Europe and InvestEU. When it comes to instruments, it will be important that such noble purposes are met with funding that is adequate to revolutionise European education systems. 

At the same time, as is often the case with Council recommendations, the implementation process and measures will be as important as the recommendation itself. It will be important to stay within the framework of a learner-guided implementation, where education is implemented for its own sake. 

Systemic cooperation for a green transition

It is nonetheless crucial to realise that the burden of reaching the objective shall not be placed entirely on individuals or on education systems. Alone, atomised individuals or educators will not make the world greener overnight: such a titanic effort shall see the active involvement and commitment of decision-makers and major economic players and polluters. Environmental challenges are first and foremost of economic nature (e.g. production and consumption models) and have societal implications (e.g. migration, inequalities). The system cannot be changed by only looking at the environmental dimension without questioning our economic and social system. Education is a place where its actors can understand what is wrong with the system and identify solutions to fix it, but education stakeholders cannot do that in isolation from the community and society that they live in.  

As a way of illustrating this, integrating education for sustainability in the education system can only succeed if the economic and productive policies supported by employment and civil society stakeholders fuel the creation of green jobs and occupations as well as the development of green skills. The same applies to social policies addressing inequality gaps; intergenerational sustainability can only be achieved if intragenerational wellbeing is given proper attention. Close cooperation between stakeholders can support that and is essential in that regard.  

Lifelong learning as guiding principle 

Likewise, it will be important to not conceive education and training only as a means to cover the jobs needed as part of the green transition as the first aim indicates, but keep in mind that the ultimate goal must always be to improve education in itself.

At the same time, it is revitalising to acknowledge that the European Commission is envisioning to put education and lifelong learning at the centre of this new journey. All the more, because many of the guiding provisions in the proposal had been put forward by the Lifelong Learning Platform in its position paper on “Lifelong Learning for Sustainable Societies”. And we like to believe that well-grounded documents such as the position paper, informed with values of inclusion and solidarity, will always end up being the backbone of progressive decision-making. 

 

EDEN – Education in time of new normal

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic last March, universities worldwide faced the need to move all their classes to an online environment overnight, in order to ensure continuation of their teaching and learning activities. Institutions that had already ventured onto the path of online education realised this transformation much more quickly than those who were less prepared. Others made the transition more modestly, only beginning to take the first steps into online education. In a remarkable short time, courses and exams across the globe moved online, ensuring that universities did not close but rather adapted to the new situation and by doing so managed to save the remainder of the academic year.

Having overcome the initial impact of the pandemic and having moved beyond immediate crisis management, university leaders are now taking the time to reflect on the lessons learned, to set new strategies for the future, and to fully prepare their institutions for the new academic year. Although some continue to hope that students will soon return to classrooms, others see the COVID-19 crisis as a catalyst for educational organisations to implement online teaching and learning systematically and to thus offer a better quality of education in this age of the new normal. What are the key leadership decisions that organisational leaders must make in creating their vision for the future? What short-term and long-term strategies are needed? How can leadership ensure a smooth transition to the online setting and create the necessary infrastructure for training teachers, and implementing new teaching methods and redesigned curricula? How can universities manage their transition to online while improving the quality of teaching and learning? These are some of the questions we will be addressing in the first two webinars of the EDEN webinar initiative Education in time of a new normal (September 14 and 21).

Aimed at policy makers and organisational leaders and management, but also for all those working in education, these webinars will provide practical insights and tips from well-known experts, leaders, and practitioners in the field of e-learning and online learning.

Join the sessions and participate in discussions, where you will get the ideas you need to turn your vision for the future into actionable steps. Get the answers you need for smoothly leading your organisation in transforming your curriculum to online and ensuring high quality teaching and learning.

Read more and join the webinars!

Next EU Budget: Lack of political ambition leads to cut on social Europe

On Tuesday, July 21st, and after over four days of intense negotiations, European leaders finally reached an agreement over the next seven-year EU Budget and closely-related Recovery Fund. 

To any external observer, it was clear that the EU own budget would have fallen victim to the economic needs of the Recovery Fund (called ‘Next Generation EU’), which prompted bitter disputes between Member States. The Multiannual Financial Framework for the next cycle (2021-2027) is 1.074 trillion euros, plus the extraordinary 750 billion euros that will feed the Next Generation EU: an impressive agreement per se, especially in consideration of the difficulties along the way. 

In this context, the total budget for the next Erasmus+ programme is set at 21.208 billion euros, which is the same budget proposed by the Council itself in February before the COVID crisis. This amount openly defies the European Parliament’s concerns and leaves civil society’s cries unheard, including our Erasmus+ Coalition statement. Moreover, this figure represents a 5.2 billion cut (almost -20%) from the original European Commission proposal and a staggering 23.8 billion cut (-53%) from what the European Parliament deemed necessary

Other programmes that transversally touch upon education and training such as Horizon+ (80.9 billion euros, with a total reduction of 13.5 billion euros from previous Commission’s proposals) and Justice, Rights and Values (841 million euros, against the 1.83 billion euros demanded by CSOs and the European Parliament) have suffered cuts in funding. Overall, it is surprising to realise that cuts mostly affect the Heading 7 of the budget, ‘Investing in People, Social Cohesion and Values’: this alone says a lot about the European Council’s priorities.

Addressing the unprecedented consequences of the health crisis in education and training requires serious investments and political commitment. In this very particular moment, Europe cannot afford to leave behind vulnerable learners by failing to adequately inject much-needed investments into the social sphere. While the Next Generation EU rightfully focuses on the immediate recovery of the economy, European leaders do not seem to share the view that a democratic, sustainable and socially cohesive Union, in the long-term, cannot be built on industry and infrastructure alone but shall rise from values, solidarity and competences of its people. Ensuring employment and economic prosperity will not be enough to overcome the consequences of an ongoing traumatic experience for all citizens: this is a short-sighted action.

Furthermore, the agreed budget falls short on Europe’s own ambitions. We can’t help but notice a profound disconnection between political declarations to invest in education, training, research and youth, and the outcomes of decision-making processes. President von der Leyen herself, at the beginning of her mandate, claimed to support the tripling of the Erasmus+ budget; instead, for the next cycle, the Erasmus+ will see a mere +50% increase over the 2014-2020 budget. We regret to acknowledge that European leaders overlooked a great opportunity for upscaling education and training transversally in Europe. This envelope is not enough to deliver on the ambitious (and much-needed) goals of the future programme for learning mobility, cooperation between organisations and support for policy reform across all sectors, not to mention its sought contribution to implementing the European Education Area, EU Youth Strategy and the European Green Deal, among other priorities. 

Make no mistakes: this agreement is a shaky message to European citizens and an earthquake to European ambitions in education and training and other sectors alike. 

Erasmus+ Coalition joint statement on the revised proposal for EU Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027

The European Commission’s revised proposal for the next long-term EU budget (2021-2027) brings both hope and disappointment. The strong commitment to European cooperation and public investment demonstrated by its proposed allocation of 1.1 trillion euros, along with 750 billion euros for recovery instrument NextGenerationEU, is a positive sign for the future of Europe. Addressing the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the green and digital transitions, certainly requires ambitious public investment. In this regard, Europe cannot afford to leave people behind by failing to adequately channel such investment into funding programmes which have a tangible and positive impact on their lives while also helping to tackle the above challenges and contribute to the EU’s recovery. However, compared to the Commission’s original proposal from 2018, the revision surprisingly reduces the allocation to such programmes.

Read the full statement here

European Students’ Union review of Human Rights Violations during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The World Health Organisation along with the United Nations stressed the importance that national leaders adopt a cooperative, global and human rights-based approach in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic (1). The COVID-19 pandemic has not only shown society the importance of welfare systems, but more so the impact and repercussions that good or bad governance has on society at large.

The European Students’ Union, ESU, above all, commends governing bodies working to support healthcare staff on the national frontlines of defense and ensure that health services are accessible to all who need it. On the other hand, ESU is disturbed by governments that propagate denial, distrust in science and unnecessary fear during the pandemic (2, 3), as this risks setting society on a much longer and more painful path to normality.

Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which most countries have adopted, governments are obligated to take effective steps for the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic [..] diseases” and authorities must ensure that everyone has access to the same rights and protection. National constitutions and international human rights treaties contain strict clauses that allow governments to invoke special powers in times of crisis. However, emergency measures breaching human rights must be invoked under legal and scientific basis with the scope of combatting the pandemic. They must be subject to a pre-fixed time limit and must not subvert or escape the work of oversight and scrutiny carried out by Parliaments and independent authorities. Everyone should be fully informed about emergency measures and no person or social group should be discriminated against by the arbitrary application of such measures (4).  

Many states are under “lockdown” as governments assumed added legislative powers to close non-essential businesses, enforce quarantine and isolation measures, restrict public gatherings, limit freedom of movement and association, and subject people to increased surveillance through street police patrols or mobile applications (5, 6). In the following statement, ESU reviews the reprehensible damage being done to European democratic values and fundamental human rights and freedoms amidst the economic and social consequences of the global pandemic that is, in certain circumstances further aggravated by European leaders adopting emergency measures that only favour the ruling classes and that deepen social inequality.

Continue reading on ESU’s website!

LLLP Annual Conference Postponed – Save the date for 30 November

The Steering Committee of the Lifelong Learning Platform has decided to postpone the Annual Conference 2020. Initially foreseen for 27-28 May 2020 in Zagreb, Croatia, due to the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19, LLLP decided to hold its Annual Conference 2020 on November 30 in Brussels. The Annual Conference will see a different format and will thus be coupled with the LLLWeek 2020, of which it will represent the opening event.

The topic of the conference – Lifelong Learning for Sustainable Societies – remains the same, as LLLP hopes to deliver a great discussion on the sustainable aspects of our education systems in the aftermath of the coronavirus emergency.

Europe’s share of GDP for education and training has never been this low. A comparative analysis

EU Member States are dedicating an ever-smaller share of their budget to education and training: unfortunately, this trend is well consolidated and alarming. Eurostat, the European agency dedicated to statistical analysis of EU Member States (and beyond), punctually publishes statistics about education and other sectors: its reports are of particular interest because they evoke a precise picture of countries’ investments in different budget areas. 

At the LLLPlatform, we have compared the same study Eurostat publishes every year with the aggregated data of post-crisis Europe and found out what we feared: European countries seem to view education and training as an easy-to-cut budget item, despite the fact that most of them have not been implementing fiscal consolidation measures for a while, in the aftermath of the debt crisis. This was confirmed partially by the ET Monitor 2019 published in September at the European Education Summit (see here LLLP’s reaction). At the same time, such a trend goes against the view on the importance of investment in education expressed by several Member States at the joint meeting of EU education and finance ministers last November. 

The role of education in times of crisis cannot be overstated: it is thanks to virtual and distance learning that our education systems keep on functioning during the COVID-19 outbreak – and this kind of learning needs more than promises. The very implementation of the European Green Deal and of the new Digital plan will depend on a clear political will to invest in education. 

2009 – 2013

This early report from Eurostat helps us set the context. In 2009 the average EU budget for education was 5.5%. It then decreased to 5.4% in 2010 and 5.3% in 2011. In 2012 it went further down to 5.2% of the total national GDP, while in 2013 it stagnated.

In times of crisis and expenditure-based austerity, education and training were amid the sectors to suffer the most, notwithstanding a general recovery in the economy. This is part of a global trend where public institutions rely on the private sector to fill the gaps in sectors it is no longer willing to keep (see this UNESCO paper on the consequences of privatisation for the education sector). It is worthwhile to note that in 2013 there has been a change in the classification of the sector.

2014-2018

In 2014, Juncker’s Commission settled in. The new President announced that education would be a vital part of their European programme, and stated that MSs could be convinced to invest in education programmes thanks to their high return-on-investment rate. However, Eurostat studies show that, at that time, the EU average was slightly above 5.0%. During these years the downward trend consolidated, and this is all the more worrisome because the total level of GDP in Europe rose well above pre-crisis levels. Europe is richer than ever, and yet the percentage of funds allocated to education and training keeps on decreasing. 

In 2015, over €721 billion of general government expenditure was spent by the Member States on education. This expenditure is equivalent to 4.9% of the EU’s GDP. ‘Education’ is the fourth largest item of public expenditure, after ‘social protection’ (19.2%), ‘health’ (7.2%) and ‘general public services’ such as external affairs and public debt transactions (6.2%).

In 2016, despite the pull of countries such as Finland, Denmark, UK and Belgium, countries from the European periphery started the downfall. Italy, Ireland, Bulgaria and Romania are well below the threshold of 4% of their GDP, marking a clear division with northern and central Europe.

We learn that this trend not only affects education and training, but it is a much broader trend that sees disinvestment in all social areas. In fact, this study published by Eurostat reminds us that investment in the social sector was rising pre-crisis and steeply decreasing after 2009. However, once the crisis ended, social investment never really recovered and one could argue that policy measures based on expenditure cuts have continued even without fiscal consolidation needs. 

In 2018, even virtuous examples like Denmark, Finland and Sweden reduced their share of investment in education and training. Sweden is the EU country that spends the most on E&T (6.9%) but Denmark saw its share of GDP in education and training fall from 7.9% in 2012 to a staggering 6.4% in the span of seven years. Countries like Romania and Ireland are perilously close to the threshold of 3%, which is unlikely to sustain the needs of a healthy public education system. 

Takeaways

To sum up, the average expenditures on education decreased constantly from a share of 5.5% of GDP in 2009 to only 4.7% in 2018, despite the claims of the European Commission and national governments. We are talking about a 17% disinvestment since 2009.

While we should not forget that the absolute amount of money destined to education and training has increased, it is the percentage over GDP that gives the real measure of the importance of our sector to European countries. And our sector has never been this irrelevant. 

Data source: Eurostat; Elaboration: Lifelong Learning Platform

The breakdown of the data by countries gives us an even grimmer image. Only three countries have increased their percentage of investment in education: Belgium (+0.1%), Sweden (+0.1%) and Croatia (a very positive example with +1.7%). On the other side of the scale, most countries have registered a decrease; amid the most staggering lie Cyprus (-1.2%), Slovenia (-1.2%), UK (-1.4%), Ireland (-1.5%), Portugal (-2.0%)  and Lithuania (-2.6%).

This trend is extremely worrying and the shrinking of funding undermines education in all of its sectors and forms. It undermines the personal development of individuals, it undermines the availability of skilled workers on the labour market, it undermines the wider benefits of learning, and it undermines our very society as we know it. Decreasing the percentage destined to education and training means that public expenditure cannot keep up with the dynamic pace and the countless transformations that education is currently experiencing, at the risk of leaving behind those who cannot afford higher costs. By the same token, this trend reflects the increasing privatisation and commodification of education in our continent, that will eventually and inevitably widen the economic and social cleavage in Europe. Current trends of investments are moving from “education & training” to “skills” provision to further support this market approach where skills are understood as a product to sell rather than intangible and invaluable knowledge. 

The Lifelong Learning Platform vehemently opposes the diminished share of investment in public education and the increasing tendency to treat education as a marketable good: we will not stop asking the European institutions and the Member States to increase their expenditures in education at European, national and local level. European education and finance ministers have already spoken the truth about the value of such investment, and we now ask them to translate their acknowledgement into robust and concrete commitment. 

Peer-Learning Activity on Promoting Common Values and Inclusive Education

The Lifelong Learning Platform, the Croatian Ministry of Science and Education and the European Commission joined forces to deliver a unique peer-learning activity on “Promoting Common Values and Inclusive Education through Cooperation between Education Institutions and Civil Society”. The event, which took place on 4-5 April in Zagreb, Croatia, was organised under the umbrella of the Education & Training 2020 Thematic Working Group on Promoting Common Values and Inclusive Education.

The whole event was a great opportunity for European member States to learn on each other’s best practices on the role of civil society and non-formal education providers in the topic, with a special focus on history teaching and cyber-bullying. In an informal setting, workshops and roundtables took the participants into the topic, highlighting the efforts that MS should be carrying out to empower civil society organisations and non-formal education providers.

In fact, a few local academics admitted that the role of civil society is crucial and certainly underestimated; nevertheless, often they are seen as counter-power and measures are put in place to reduce their capacities to act or use only them that provide services. This is especially true in recent years. All countries participating agreed and recognised that an empowered civil society helps countries achieve their individual and common education goals. The funding schemes for such stakeholders were also addressed in the discussion with Member States.

ESN Survey 2019

The ESNsurvey 2019 has been officially launched and the topic is transversal to all education actors, as this edition is focused on mobility students and their sense of citizenship in political, civil and social actions.

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How affected are the lives of these students after their exchanges? What is the impact of a mobility experience in students who through the programme have the opportunity to meet new cultures, new friends, live in an international environment? With the questionnaire we aim at understanding the difference between these students and those who never had the opportunity to participate in the Erasmus+ Programme. Our research is going to focus on the impact of the abroad experience in the participation of international students in society. Does going abroad make students more engaged at a political, civil, and social level? What are the particular aspects of active citizenship gained through the abroad experience? Does this have an impact on their opinion about the European Union, as the entity that finances the Erasmus+ Programme? And on their voting behaviour? How do these elements interact with each other?

We would like to ask you to spread the 2019 Questionnaire among your organisations as we have several targets that you can reach:

1)  Current Erasmus+ Higher Education participants
2)  Current Participants of other types of Higher Education mobilities
3)  Alumni of Higher Education exchange programmes

4)  Local students who did not or do not consider an exchange

As we are addressing as well alumni and local students since we aim to assess the eventual effect on the long term of participating on a mobility experience, we would benefit a lot to get as many answers as possible from people that you work with.

The survey is very easy to fill, anonymous though we will ask the participants to leave their email so that we can come back to them after the EP elections and understand if they participated.

The survey can be reached at https://esn.org/survey2019