Andreas Walther

From Lisbon 2010 towards Europe 2020: EU education and training policies between continuity and change

In the past decade, educational research and policy at EU level are being used with reference to the Lisbon Strategy either affirming or criticising its objective of making Europe the most successful knowledge economy in the world and the policy priorities resulting from this. Since 2010 the Lisbon Strategy is history, not only because it was scheduled for the period from 2000 to 2010 but also because neither the overall objective nor the operative benchmarking indicators have been achieved. It needs to be said that – at latest with the mid-term reviews undertaken by the Commission - this was to be expected. So, what next?

As all organisations working on the principle of management by objectives, the EU needs overall guiding concepts in order to provide its member states with a corporate identity. In the case of the strategy Europe 2020, the shared experience of ‚the crisis‘ has been the spiritus rector which is reflected by the subtitle „smart, sustainable and inclusive growth“. Already the title suggests that Europe 2020 is neither a new start nor a revision but rather more of the same. This is not only reflected by the term growth and the time line 2020, it is also visible in its implication for the sector of education and training.

The strategy Europe 2020 consists of seven initiatives two of which address education:

Flagship initiative: "Youth on the move"

The aim is to enhance the performance and international attractiveness of Europe's higher education institutions and raise the overall quality of all levels of education and training in the EU, combining both excellence and equity, by promoting student mobility and trainees' mobility, and improve the employment situation of young people. Key elements at EU level are modernisation of Higher Education and an employment policy for school leavers while member states are called to increase expenditure on education and training and to develop national qualification frameworks.

Flagship Initiative: "An Agenda for new skills and jobs"

The aim is to create conditions for modernising labour markets with a perspective on raising employment levels and ensuring the sustainability of our social models. This means empowering people through the acquisition of new skills to enable our current and future workforce to adapt to new conditions and potential career shifts, reduce unemployment and raise labour productivity. Efforts of Commission and member states in this respect centre around the key words of flexicurity and lifelong learning. 

The benchmarks by which the objectives regarding education and training are operationalised (such as reducing early school leaving to 10%) remain largely the same although the extension of the deadlines for achieving them has already been extended in the Strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training ("ET 2020") adopted in 2009. This applies also for the procedure of the Open Method of Coordination which however is spelled out only once in the new strategy but hidden behind its elements: integrated guidelines, policy recommendations and country reporting.

Even the concept of key competences is being re-vitalised. In a joint report of the Council and the Commission on the implementation of the Education and Training 2010 framework beyond 2010 education is being broken down to eight key competencies which reflect the influence of the OECD’s PISA process as well as increasing complaints of employers as regards the (lacking) basic skills of school leavers: 1) Communication in the mother tongue; 2) Communication in foreign languages; 3) Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology; 4) Digital competence; 5) Learning to learn; 6) Social and civic competences; 7) Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship; 8) Cultural awareness and expression.

More explicitly than in the Education and Training Strategy 2010, ET 2020 addresses school issues directly, especially school management and teacher training as fields of cooperation at EU level. This reveals that transnationalism and Europeanisation have finally broken the resistance of member states that for many decades insisted on the exclusively national responsibilty for general education policies.

What is new is a web portal entitled Knowledge System for Lifelong Learning intended as an online infrastructure for ET 2020 which collects policy documents, studies as well as practice examples.