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Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Opening statement on education benchmark report
Press conference on education benchmark report
Brussels, 19 April, 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome this opportunity to present the Commission's latest annual report on the progress made by EU Member States towards our joint European objectives in education and training.
Our economies are increasingly knowledge-based, and education and training play a vital role for growth, sustainable jobs and the competitiveness of the European economy.
Even in periods of crisis, as recognised by heads of state and government at the European Council in February, investing in education and training is a growth friendly investment if it is delivered efficiently and based on modernised and reformed education systems.
[Progress towards 2010 benchmarks]
Allow me to start by looking at Member States' progress on the five benchmarks that Ministers set in 2003 for completion by 2010.
It is clear from our current data that, despite general improvement in all areas, only one out of the five benchmarks has been achieved.
The EU has succeeded – spectacularly – in its target to increase the number of maths, science and technology graduates. In 2000, we had 686,000 graduates in these areas. We now have over 940,000, which represents a 37% rise – easily outstripping the target increase of 15%.
The benchmark also called for an improvement in gender balance among MST graduates: in this respect we have also succeeded, albeit not so impressively, with the share of female graduates rising from 30.7% to 32.6%.
On early school leaving, the EU set a target of reducing the drop-out rate from nearly 18% in 2000 to less than 10%. The average across the EU is now 14.4%, which is equivalent to over one million fewer early school leavers.
We have reduced the share of low achievers in reading among 15-year-olds to 20%, but that falls short of the 17% target. In this area, more efforts need to be made to narrow very high gaps linked to the socio-economic background of pupils.
The target on the share of young people completing upper secondary education was set at 85%. We've seen only a slight improvement here, from 76.6% in 2000 to 78.6% now.
Regarding the share of working age adults participating in lifelong learning, we set a target of 12.5%, compared to 7% in 2000. We are currently just over 9%.
In 2009, EU Education Ministers agreed on five revised education and training benchmarks to be attained by 2020:
• They retained the target of reducing the share of early school leavers to less than 10%;
• They increased the target for the share of adults participating in lifelong learning to 15%;
Regarding the new targets:
• They called for the share of 30-34 year olds with tertiary educational attainment to reach at least 40%. The current European average is 32.3%, which is already an increase of nearly 10 percentage points on 2000. If we achieve our target this would mean an additional 2.6 million graduates;
• Ministers also agreed that by 2020 at least 95% of children between the age of four and the age for starting compulsory primary education should participate in early childhood education. The current figure is now 92.3%, compared to 85.6% in 2000. Achieving our target would mean over 250,000 more young children in education;
• Finally, a target was set for the share of 15-years olds with insufficient abilities in the basic skills of reading, mathematics and science to be less than 15%. This compares to around 20% for all three now. Achieving the target would mean 250 000 fewer low achievers.
[Europe 2020 benchmarks:]
As you know, education and training is also at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy. Two of our education benchmarks, to reduce the share of early school leavers to less than 10% and to increase the share of tertiary level graduates to at least 40%, are now Europe 2020 headline targets along with our objectives of increasing employment and reducing poverty.
It is not acceptable that, today, one in seven young people leaves school without finishing upper secondary education and only one in three young adults attains tertiary education.
We are currently looking forward to receiving final versions of national reform programmes, which will detail the reforms Member States will undertake in order to reach our joint Europe 2020 goals.
If we look ahead, we will in future also set benchmarks for learning mobility, employability and language skills.
I am confident that, on current trends and with the necessary political will, Member States will be able to meet the targets we have set for 2020. But this will only be possible if reforms are maintained at all levels.
Let me conclude by once more calling on Member States to maintain or even increase education budgets, despite the restraints imposed by the economic crisis. Investing in education is an investment in the future, as high quality education can benefit all Europeans. It will help us put Europe back on track and to make progress towards our wider social and economic objectives.
In many cases, this means doing better with the same or fewer resources. In other words, making intelligent choices and more efficient investment in education and training. I am convinced that this report will help Member States target better resources towards those sectors within education that need it most.
By showing where in Europe education systems are successful, today's report supports peer learning among Member States. In Europe, we are lucky to have some of the world's top performing countries, for example in reading skills of 15 year-olds and participation in lifelong learning, so there is a lot of scope for countries to learn from one another.