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[Check Against Delivery]
Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Erasmus+? Ja bitte!
Erasmus+ launch conference
Berlin, 24 April 2014
I am delighted to be here with you and Doris Pack [Chair of the European Parliament's Culture and Education Committee] to launch Erasmus+, the European Union's new programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport, and I would like to thank the German authorities for hosting this event.
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 the European Union's most precious values and aspirations.
The new 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.
[600,000 Germans to benefit from Erasmus+]
In 2014, Germany will receive nearly €165 million from Erasmus+. This represents 11% more than it received in 2013. We estimate that in the next seven years, Erasmus+ will help nearly 600,000 individuals from Germany to have a mobility experience abroad.
What I want to do this morning is to underline why Erasmus+ is so important, and why we want you to be a part of it.
Over the past four years I have worked 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. Today, education sits at the centre of EU policy-making. Our message to Member States 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.
[Tacking education challenges]
For instance: 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 support initiatives to 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.
Erasmus+ can also help countries to address specific challenges. In Germany, for instance, support could be directed at increasing the educational level of disadvantaged people, and at extending and improving early childhood education and care as well as all-day schools.
In all of these challenges, national ministries and education departments will continue to play the leading role alongside the institutions of learning and the teachers who bring education and learning 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, the cross-border transfer of innovations 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.
In this new partnership, 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.
[Informal education, youth work]
Our role in 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.
Our EU Youth Strategy in particular underlines the importance of youth work, which allows young people to develop a sense of self-confidence, build up skills, and receive personalised support to overcome specific personal and social problems.
We also encourage young people to participate in the democratic process and in society. Ways in which this is being achieved include mechanisms for dialogue with young people – what we call the structured dialogue - and facilitating their participation in the shaping of national policies.
This is how Erasmus+ will work, building multifunctional partnerships 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 others. 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.
[Mobility enhances skills and employability]
But the value of mobility leads us to one of the 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 one important part of our response.
Another part of the response is how we reform our systems of vocational education and training. Those countries, like Germany, that have strong vocational systems tend to enjoy lower levels of youth unemployment. I am very pleased that the German government as well as many chambers of industry, commerce and crafts are actively engaged in sharing their experience with other European countries, notably through the European Alliance for Apprenticeships.
Erasmus+ will fund new alliances between training providers and businesses to modernise vocational teaching and to boost the quality and quantity of apprenticeships across Europe.
[Tackling transnational threats in sport]
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 transnational 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.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a duty to modernise our education and training systems, both formal and informal. They need to offer the right mix of skills that life in a complex society demands.
And we also 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 afford to fail: we must 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.