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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 21 February 2014

EU Education Council (24 February)

The challenge of improving the skills needed to enhance employability and increase levels of literacy and numeracy in the European Union will be at the top of the agenda when EU Education Ministers meet in Brussels on 24 February. Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, will join their discussion on the findings of recent studies by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), which show that the EU still has a lot to do if it is to meet its 2020 target to reduce the share of low achievers in schools to under 15% and ensure that adults are equipped with the skills they need to find decent jobs and lead fulfilling lives.

The latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) survey, measuring the abilities of 15 year olds, found that, among EU countries, 22.1% are low achievers in maths, 17.8% in reading and 16.6% in science. Although these figures represent a slight improvement on previous years, the EU average masks significant differences between Member States. For example, the share of low achievers in maths is over 40% in Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus, compared with only 10.5% in Estonia, 12.3% in Finland and 14.4% in Poland.

Low achievement in school is rarely compensated for later in life, so similar shortcomings are also evident among the working age population - as highlighted in the OECD's recent Survey of Adults Skills (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, PIAAC). Low achievement results in a skills deficit or mismatch, as well as growing education inequalities, which have not been improved due to stagnating or falling levels of public spending on education.

Speaking ahead of the Education Council, Commissioner Vassiliou commented: "For people of all ages, the need to acquire relevant skills is more crucial than ever if Europe is to compete as a knowledge economy. By working more closely together at the European level, we can learn from each other and identify the solutions required to reduce low achievement and avoid the skills mismatch which is contributing to unacceptable levels of unemployment."

The Education Ministers are also expected to welcome the Commission's initiative on 'Opening up Education' and call for Member States to make the most of new technologies and online learning materials, alongside traditional teaching methods.

Background

The OECD's PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills (October 2013) and PISA study (December 2013) both underlined the need to improve education and training in the EU.

Education and training are at the heart of the EU's strategy for growth and jobs, as well as the so-called 'European Semester', the Commission's analysis of economic and structural reforms in Member States. As part of this process, the Commission provides country-specific recommendations in areas including education, research and skills. The Council discussions are expected to provide an important insight into Member States' plans for improving education and training performance.

Erasmus+, the EU's new programme for education, training, youth and sport, will provide grants for four million people to improve their skills through opportunities to study, train, gain work experience or volunteer abroad. The seven year programme has a budget of €14.7 billion; a 40% increase compared with previous levels, reflecting the EU's commitment to investing in these areas.

Commissioner Vassiliou will join Greek Minister of Education and Religious Affairs Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos for a press conference at around 13:30 in the Council press room.

Erasmus+ website

Government expenditure on education as a share of GDP


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