The European Union can encourage and facilitate cooperation between Member States in order to develop quality education, however unlike in other policy area's the EU cannot harmonise any law or regulation of the Member States. The content and organisation of education systems and their cultural and linguistic particularities are fully in the hands of the Member States.
There is therefore very little what EU Institutions can do in terms of education policy. They can however encourage and facilitate voluntary cooperation between Member States. This is why the EU Institutions carry out the strategy of setting-up programs, instead of doing the impossible: imposing legislation.
They encourage and facilitate cooperation between Member States by dangling a very attractive carrot in front of the national competent authorities. Probably the most famous example is the Erasmus program, already active since the 1980's. The European Commission states: “ERASMUS has become a driver in the modernisation of higher education institutions and systems in Europe”.
This program, based on voluntary participation, requires higher education institutions to adopt an Erasmus University Charter in order to be part of the program. With a budget of more than 450 million Euro, and over 2.2 million participating students since the start of the program, Erasmus is a very successful 'carrot on a stick'.
There are other, similar, but small, developments in EU education programs, like Leonardo da Vinci (for vocational training), Grundvig (for adult education). However, based on the Erasmus principle, these developments are not remarkable.
The European Council and the European Parliament are now reviewing and discussing the 2014–2020 program proposed by Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, Mrs. Androulla Vassiliou. The program is called: 'Erasmus for all', and it would bring together seven existing programs into one.
But this program does not have too many new elements; rather it is bringing existing elements together for a more efficient use of resources and easier access for participants. My question is why? Where is the innovation in the EU education policy area?
For my PhD thesis, which I finished 5 years ago, I did research to find new programs in the EU education area: today's education does not sufficiently reflect a European dimension. The practical part of my research was done by an NGO – a project under the name Eureca. EURECA was conceived as a Campaign for European Education focusing on five main aims:
- Raising awareness for the importance of Education for the future integration of Europe and its citizens;
- Establishing a dialogue and an open exchange of ideas (horizontal - among students of all disciplines - and vertical - between students and decision -makers);
- Underlining the role that the European Union is playing in influencing European Education;
- Paying special attention to the role that Media can play in this issue;
- Elaborating a Proposal for a New Education Program.
Main conclusions of the research:
- In the contemporary world students treat their summer break as a vital period for personal development and learning. We believe that setting up framework for accessible short courses, up to 2 months, would bring out better cultural understanding and academic enrichment for one’s studies. Such action will involve new technologies and offer opportunities for students who fall out of current mobility scheme;
- Open to the youth in general, not only to students (age: 18 – 26);
- Implementation via European and regional structures, not involving the national structures;
- The “mobility” should be only co-financed by an EU program (50%), the rest is supported by the regional and local authorities and private sector.
I proposed a “Summer Erasmus” program, a supplement to the Erasmus program, which would complement it by enabling students to develop themselves through a 'summer university'. An example of an association already that is experienced in carrying out summer university programs is AEGEE. In 2011 they had 77 participating universities, which accounted for over 2200 places. Their reach seems a bit limited, but the structures in place make a good and strong example for a “Summer Erasmus” program.
This proposal has already been presented to the two EU Commissioners responsible for Education (Viviane Reding in 2003 and Jan Figel in 2006), but without success for the 2007-2013 programs.
In my view, Europe is in need of innovation, continuous development and opportunities in the field of education. Taking the 2014-2020 'Erasmus for All' proposal into consideration: yes, this might make the existing structures and programs more accessible and efficient, but I would like to put this forward again: where is the development to further integrate the EU Member States more in the field of education? And ultimately: where is the innovation in the European education policy area?
Dan LUCA / Brussels