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Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Erasmus+ gets plus points for tackling Europe's education challenges
Erasmus+: An opportunity to modernise education, training, youth and sport systems for the 21st century (EU Presidency conference)
Athens, 16 January 2014
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here with you to launch Erasmus+, the European Union's new programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport.
I would like to thank the Greek Presidency and Ministers Arvanitopoulos and Panayiotopoulos for hosting this event.
"Dum spiro spero" – "While I breathe, I hope". These words from the Greek poet, Theocritus, remind us that hope is a vital part of the human experience.
It is hope that carries us through moments of darkness and despair, so that tomorrow we can begin again. In periods of crisis, our democratic institutions have a duty to offer hope to our citizens; governments to offer hope through their policies.
I believe education can restore hope in our ability to choose and shape the society we want to live in. If our world today is more fragmented than ever, and some of our traditional institutions weakened and in retreat, then education is surely one of the places where we can rediscover our values and a sense of identity.
We often hear that our schools and universities must adapt to the needs of employers. And of course, up to a point, this is true: our institutions of learning should indeed open their doors to the world around them, and work with local partners to ensure their teaching keeps pace with social and economic change.
But education is one of our most powerful tools for shaping our society's future, including the way we think about and organise the world of work. If we want a society that is open, fair, democratic and dynamic, then surely that job begins in the classroom.
I believe education can restore hope in the fair society – but only if we learn from the crisis. One of the most urgent lessons is that many of our economies were neither sustainable nor inclusive: too few people shared in the benefits of a globalising economy, many saw their wages stagnate over the long term, and some become dependent on credit as a way of maintaining their standard of living. Education has something to say about all of this. Only by raising people's skills and preparing them for the complexities of modern life can we create a fairer, more sustainable society.
Today we begin a new chapter in a great story. Erasmus has been opening minds and changing lives for more than three million people already; it has come to symbolise some of our most precious values and aspirations.
The new programme that we launch here today, Erasmus+, will expand that opportunity to four million more people, giving them the chance to study, train, work and volunteer in a new country, in a new culture, in a new language, with new friends. With a new budget of almost 15 billion euros – 40 per cent higher than today's – Erasmus+ offers hope to young people across Europe and to the people and institutions that prepare them for life.
Today, you have the chance to discuss the new programme and find out how it works. My services as well as the National Agency for Erasmus+ in Greece are here to answer your questions, and we will be at your service for the next seven years. And I would encourage you to explore the new Erasmus+ website, which shows our commitment to clear communications.
What I want to do this morning is underline why Erasmus+ is so important, and why we want you to be a part of it.
Over the past four years I have strived to put education and training at the heart of the European Union's plans for growth and jobs. It is our human capital – the knowledge, skills and creativity of our people – that will deliver the intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth that we all want to see. Erasmus+ turns that vision into reality.
[Investment in education and training]
Today, education sits at the centre of EU policy-making. Every year, when we work with our Member States to identify the priorities for reform, the Commission encourages all governments to modernise and invest in their education systems.
Our message is clear: investment in education and training must continue even as we consolidate our public finances.
This is why Erasmus+ supports all levels of education, from virtual platforms for school teachers to the unique needs of adult learners. We will only reconcile equity and excellence by understanding the journey from one phase of education to the next and by building bridges between them.
This means that, more than ever before, Erasmus+ will support the long-term political goals that we have agreed at European level, and which are laid down clearly in our strategies for education and training.
Together with our Member States we have agreed that early school leaving is an urgent priority; therefore Erasmus+ will share the best solutions from across Europe. We have identified poor reading skills as a serious problem; Erasmus+ will fund new cross-border projects to tackle it. We know that our foreign language skills are falling behind; Erasmus+ will boost them. We need to open up education to new technologies; Erasmus+ will support better use of ICT for learners and teachers.
Our vocational training systems are too often failing our young people; Erasmus+ will help to modernise them. Students wanting to study their Master's degree abroad find it difficult to secure loans; Erasmus+ will provide a new loan guarantee. Our universities do not work closely enough with businesses; Erasmus+ will bring them together to create new alliances fostering innovation.
In all of these great challenges, national ministries and education departments will continue to play the leading role alongside the institutions of learning and the teachers who bring the vision to life.
But the European Union can now offer more support and more resources than ever before, since the world of education is itself globalising and facing a set of common challenges that demand cooperation, cross-border innovation and the sharing of ideas. This is why Erasmus+ marks a new partnership between all the actors at all levels, from the local to the European to the global.
For this partnership to function, we need the best data available. That is why we work with the OECD to support surveys such as PISA. And if we look at the most recent results, we see that the four best-performing EU countries in PISA are among the top seven performing countries in the world.
But this is not simply a question of league tables; an important story lies behind the numbers. The performance of these countries reveals that their systems are ready to equip young people with the mix of skills and competences needed, not only for today's world of work but also for the creation of new jobs and the growth of tomorrow. This gives us a clearer understanding of the so-called 'skills mismatch' that everyone talks about.
If Erasmus+ marks a new partnership in education, then each partner must assume their responsibility. Equipping young people with the necessary skills and competences is the primary responsibility of the formal education systems of the Member States.
Our role, as the European Commission, is not only to support these policies but also to enrich the learning of young people by guiding them along the informal routes of education and training, and promoting civic participation.
[Erasmus+ and a partnership for skills]
This is how Erasmus+ will work as a multifunctional partnership that can help our citizens to improve their competences and skills in a way that formal education systems often fail to do.
This new dimension was central to my vision of a programme that would offer opportunities to people of different ages, helping them to expand their range of skills and competences.
Learning mobility remains at the heart of the new programme – as it should. So let us take a few seconds to remind ourselves why Erasmus has come to symbolise some of our most precious values and aspirations.
By studying, training, working and volunteering in another country, young people develop some of the skills that will serve them for the rest of their life. They learn to stand on their own two feet. They learn to live and work with people from another culture.
They learn a new language and a different way of thinking. They see the world through the eyes of someone else. In short, they open their minds.
Erasmus+ means a Europe that is open to the world. For the first time, our new programme is open to third countries, allowing students from around the globe to spend part of their studies in an EU country and vice versa.
But the value of mobility leads us to one of the most frustrating paradoxes of our times. Despite record levels of unemployment, one out of three employers cannot find people with the right skills to fill job vacancies. Today, two million jobs across the EU are waiting for the right profile. Mobility alone cannot solve this problem, but it provides an important part of our response.
Another part of the response is how we reform our systems of vocational education and training – an urgent task that Greece has understood. Those countries with strong vocational systems often enjoy lower levels of youth unemployment.
This is why Erasmus+ will fund new alliances between training providers and businesses to modernise vocational teaching – and boost the quality and quantity of apprenticeships across Europe.
Erasmus+ will also include a section dedicated to sport – for the very first time in the EU budget.
Our aim is twofold: on the one hand, to tackle the trans-national threats that plague the world of sport, like match-fixing, violence and doping, through collaborative projects that bring together key actors from across the continent.
And on the other hand, to promote the social value of sport – where sport serves as a vehicle for change, for social inclusion, health or dual careers.
We will focus on projects at the grassroots level that have a clear European dimension and that tap into the potential of sport to shape a better future for our citizens.
Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,
If we are to believe our newspapers, pollsters and commentators, 2014 will bring electoral gains to those who reject the European Union and the values it represents. We are promised a further wave of cynicism, populism and xenophobia. In conditions such as these, hope is not enough; we need to take action.
Most urgently we need to action on behalf of our young people. They do not need more intelligence, energy or the spark of creativity – these qualities they have already, in abundance. But we do have a duty to modernise our education and training systems, both formal and informal, so that they can offer the right mix of skills that life in a complex society demands.
And we do have a duty to help young people make the transition from one phase of education to the next and, ultimately, to the world of work. This is a mission where we cannot fail: to give our young people the tools that will allow them to find their own path to happiness, fulfilment and a place in society. This is where Europe can make a difference.
Erasmus+ responds to this call. It offers a new partnership between all the actors of education, training and youth. It offers a new partnership between education and the world of work. And it offers four million people the chance to study, train, work or volunteer in another country.
I can think of no better response to the cynics at the start of this New Year. Let us stand up for a Europe that is open among its neighbours and open to the world. This is my hope for Europe's young people. This is my vision for Erasmus+.