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Brussels, 25 November 2009
Frequently asked questions: Key reports put figures on education reforms in EU countries
1. Why do we need European co-operation in education and training?
While responsibility for education and training systems in Europe lies with the Member States, the EU has an important role in contributing to the development of quality education by encouraging co-operation and policy co-ordination between the countries.
Education and training are of vital importance for achieving the goals set by the European Council in March 2000 in Lisbon. The Lisbon goal to create a competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in Europe with sustainable economic growth, more and better jobs and social cohesion cannot be achieved without progress in the field of education and training. Because of the vital contribution of education and training to the Lisbon Process, the Council has agreed on concrete objectives and a work programme "Education and Training 2010".
Since this co-operation in education and training is considered useful by Member States to support national reforms it will continue after 2010 under the new strategic framework "ET 2020" adopted by the Council in May 2009.
2. Why does the EU monitor progress in this area although the responsibility for education and training lies with the Member States?
Monitoring of progress towards common objectives has been endorsed by the Member States as a useful tool for guiding co-operation and policy reform. Progress reporting analyses current trends and challenges of education reform in the Member States and it helps to identify innovative policy approaches that can improve a country's performance. Monitoring also stimulates exchange of good practice, co-operation and learning from each other in the search of better quality education.
Progress towards the implementation of the set objectives is monitored against a list of 5 benchmarks and 16 indicators that has been agreed by the Council. Since this mechanism is considered a successful practice the Council has agreed on a set of benchmarks also for the next period of co-operation until 2020.
3. What is difference between the two progress reports presented today?
The "Draft 2010 joint progress report of the Council and the Commission on the implementation of the Education & Training 2010 work programme" is the latest in a series of biennial reports. It is based on national reports prepared by the Member States themselves which are then assessed against the agreed set of indicators and benchmarks.
The main focus of the 2007-2009 reporting is, as agreed with the Member States, on the provision of key competences at all levels of education and training. The report also gives an overview of how EU countries are developing their own strategies for lifelong learning. It further takes stock of reforms which aim at making vocational education and training (VET) more attractive and relevant to labour market needs, and of measures to modernise higher education, notably with regards to investment and openness to lifelong learners. The progress report highlights the importance of reform and continuous investment in education and training as a major contribution to the emergence from the current economic crisis and to more growth and jobs in Europe in the long term.
The report "Progress towards the Lisbon Objectives in Education and Training - Indicators and Benchmarks 2009" is the latest in a series of annual reports published by the Commission. It is based on data related to 5 benchmark areas, such as the numbers of graduates in maths, science and technology and school dropouts, plus further indicators and contextual data and research results that help monitor progress towards the Lisbon objectives in education and training.
4. Why the high importance given to key competences in the 2010 draft joint progress report? What are the main findings in this area?
Key competences are essential in a knowledge society and help ensure personal fulfilment and development, social inclusion, active citizenship and employment. Key competences are also a major factor in innovation, productivity and competitiveness and they enhance flexibility in the labour force, allowing it to adapt more quickly to constant changes in an increasingly interconnected world.
The European Framework for Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, adopted in 2006, identifies and defines eight key competences necessary for personal fulfilment, active citizenship, social inclusion and employability in a knowledge society:
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.
The main findings of the 2010 joint progress report with regard to the implementation of the Key Competences recommendation are the following:
5. Which are the five education benchmarks for 2010 that are currently monitored?
For the period up to 2020, the Council in May 2009, agreed on an updated set of benchmarks:
6. Four of the five benchmarks seem not to be reached by 2010. Have expectations been set too high?
While benchmarks measure progress towards the achievement of a set target they are also important instruments to identify best performers in the EU in order to help countries learn from each other and exchange good practice. Half of all EU Member States are best performers in at least one benchmark area, which means that a wide spread of good practice and expertise in the EU exists.
It is true that only in one out of the five benchmarks (maths, science and technology graduates) progress will be sufficient to reach the targets set for 2010. Although the ambitious benchmarks in the other areas have not yet been achieved it is already a very positive development for education and training that the share of early school leavers has been reduced and that numbers of young people completing upper secondary education and adults taking part in adult learning have been increasing.
Effective reforms in education and training take time to show impact on concrete educational outcomes. The importance to continuously work on these goals is clearly underpinned by the fact that besides adding new benchmarks the Council has already agreed to maintain those in the key areas early school leaving, adult learning participation and low achieving pupils for the time up to 2020.
7. The increasing share of low achievers in reading seems to be a particular problem. Is the EU doing enough in this field?
The increasing share of pupils with low achievement in reading, one of the key skills needed for lifelong learning, is indeed a great challenge. This affects not only the EU but also countries outside Europe, such as the US and Japan, which suggests that it is part of a global trend. While a wide range of actors have to contribute to changing this trend, the EU offers support through studies and research, by identifying good practice and by helping its Member States to learn from each other. Much has happened in education in recent years as a response to these trends but it takes time to see a reflection of the results in statistical data. Currently, results are only available for the period of 2000-2006. The results of the PISA study 2009, which will be available in December 2010, may already show an improvement of the trend compared to the years before.
8. What are the main findings of the 2009 progress report on indicators and benchmarks?
The 2009 progress report on indicators and benchmarks provides evidence that since 2000, educational performance has improved in most areas identified by EU education ministers as central for achieving the goals under the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs. While there was continuous progress in reducing the share of early school leavers and in increasing the number of young people completing upper secondary education, as regards low achievers in reading results show that performance has in fact deteriorated since 2000.
Lifelong learning participation (5-64 years old) is becoming a reality for the majority of people in a number of EU countries and especially in Denmark, Sweden and Finland, followed by the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Participation in lifelong learning has increased in most countries since 2000.
Areas where progress has been achieved include also participation in initial education, including early childhood education, and the overall educational attainment of the population. The number of working age adults with low educational attainment has fallen by more than one million per year since 2000. Nevertheless, it still accounts for 77 million adults or close to 30 % for the EU as a whole.
Other areas where progress has been achieved include language learning in schools and the mobility of students in tertiary education, which has increased by more than 50 % since 2000.
9. Does the economic crisis affect Member States' investment in education and training?
The level of investment per student has increased since 2000 for all levels of education. However, growth of spending per student in tertiary education was slower than in other levels. The EU Member States would need to invest on average over EUR 10 000 more per student per year in higher education to reach the levels of the US (almost EUR 200 billion more a year).
As a result of the current economic downturn many European countries will be increasingly limited in the amount of resources that they have at their disposal and in the ways in which they may use them. In some Member States, infrastructure budgets will be at risk whereas in others, investment in education (school infrastructure, hiring new teachers, etc.) is part of the recovery plan; this investment will assist in the short-term re-launch of the economy and is expected to enhance the long-term economic perspectives.
Countries have to make difficult choices on investment levels in education due to the economic downturn. Higher education is much more constrained during an economic downturn as a result of possible increases in student numbers (young people postpone their entry into the labour market) but also risks falling or stagnating investment levels. Some predictions show that public funding for higher education will be cut in seven Member States (by around 6-10 %). In addition, many universities fear that private investment will decrease in the near future.
There is a clear link between public investment levels (measured by the proportion of public investment on education in the GDP) and the participation patterns in education in European countries. Data available from Eurostat also show that people with low educational attainment face the greatest risk of unemployment in times of economic turmoil. Therefore investment in education is not only beneficial for the whole economy, but also for each individual.
To find out more:
European Commission: Progress towards the Lisbon objectives in education and training - Indicators and benchmarks, 2009 report:
Joint progress report of the Council and the Commission on the implementation of the education and training 2010 work programme
Leaflet: 5 education benchmarks for Europe [with country-specific data]:
European Commission: European strategy and co-operation in education and training: