Education ministers from the European Union's member states will next week be urged by the European Commission to provide emergency funding for the EU's Erasmus student- exchange programme.
The programme, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, is facing a €90 million budget shortfall, and the Commission wants member states to plug the gap. If they do not, funds from the EU's 2013 annual budget will have to be used, which would lead to a drastic reduction in the number of Erasmus places at universities and a smaller number of grants, the Commission has warned.
Earlier this month, a group of 100 artists, musicians, authors, actors and sports stars wrote an open letter to member states backing the threatened programme. “Education and training must be at the heart of Europe's response” to the financial crisis, said the letter, signed by, among others, Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar, British playwright David Hare and Italian Olympic fencing chanpion Elisa Di Francisca. They said that if the funding is not forthcoming, “thousands could miss out on a potentially life-changing experience”.
They also urged member states to support the new ‘Erasmus for All' programme, which would bring a number of education schemes under one umb-rella. While there is widespread support for the combined programme, arguments over funding for the 2014-20 period are delaying its adoption.
“Erasmus for All will cost less than 2% of the total EU budget,” the letter to the member states said. “In the coming weeks, you, the EU's government leaders, will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to endorse the new programme and give it the resources it needs.”
At next week's meeting (26-27 November), the education ministers are expected to reach agreement on how to recognise and validate informal and non-formal learning. This includes the likes of workplace training and online learning. Under the plan, member states would be free to establish their own systems, with EU guidance. Only Finland, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands currently have such validation systems in place.
The ministers are also likely to support a ‘Creative Europe' programme for the 2014-20 period. This would combine the EU's culture, media and Media Mundus programmes. They will also adopt strategy documents on literacy, the contribution of education to the economic recovery, improving the internet for children, social inclusion of young people, and a strategy to combat the manipulation of sports results.
On Tuesday (20 November), the Commission launched its ‘rethinking education' strategy, which offers potential solutions to the mismatch between education and job opportunities in Europe. According to the paper, despite youth unemployment in Europe standing at 23%, there are more than two million job vacancies that cannot be filled.
Androulla Vassiliou, the European commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, tried to steer the discussion away from funding issues when she unveiled the strategy paper in Strasbourg.
“Rethinking education is not just a question of money,” she said. “Whilst it is true that we need to invest more in education and training, it is clear that education systems also need to modernise and be more flexible in how they operate to respond to the real needs of today's society.”
The paper's recommendations include tailoring assessment methods to the needs of the labour market, regular training for teachers, and better links between education and employers.
On 5 December, the Commission will present a ‘youth employment package' that will ask member states to ensure that every young person receives an offer of employment or further education within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed.