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The Added Value of EU policy in Education [European Added Value in Action]

Written by Eva Casalprim

Background

Although the 1957 Treaty of Rome first made reference to vocational training, which was known as an area of EU competence, was not until the Treaty of Maastricht that education was specifically recognised as a field in which the EU could contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging competition between Member states and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action (Article 165 TFEU). The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon has not altered the Union’s competence to carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement those of the Member States, but it does contained a so-called ‘social clause’, under which the Union, when it defines and implements its policies, takes into account requirements linked to the promotion of, inter alia, a high level of education and training (Articles 9 TFEU). In recent years, the EU has thus developed a European dimension to education, notably in the area of higher education, where it has stimulated mobility of students and teachers. In the last two decades, major progress has also been made in harmonizing university degree structures and increasing the compatibility of higher education systems. Transparency of qualifications and skills for both learners and workers throughout Europe has as well improved, thanks to, inter alia, Europass systems – facilitating the transfer of qualifications held by individuals.

© Monkey Business / Fotolia

The benefits of the support given to education at a Union level derive from the cross-border character of the activities in the field, which are additional to those developed at national or regional levels. It is worth noting that only EU programmes guarantee that all Member States benefit from mobility and exchange of good practices in the area while ensuring optimal dissemination of results. Hence, EU action in the ground is a way of filling in the missing links, avoiding fragmentation and realising the potential of a border-free Europe. In practical terms, the implementation of programmes by the EU offers better value for money and economies of scale – than a series of wholly bilateral relations between Member States in this field would allow- because externalities can be addressed, resources or expertise pooled, and action better coordinated.

ERASMUS

Launched in 1987, the Erasmus programme allocates 500 million euros annually to part-funding the transnational learning mobility of university students and staff. It has brought many positive advantages to young people (269,000 students participated in 2012/13 – a record-breaking year), firms and to European education and training as a whole. The Erasmus programme:

Further work to be done

Education and training play a strategic role in supporting the economic recovery of the Union. Good progress has been achieved towards the educational objectives set in the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy. However, to reverse the impact of the crisis and tackle underlining problems much still remains to be done, above all related to the lack of relevant skills, notably digital skills. In terms of specific programmes, a new approach to education and training, Erasmus +, will be put into effect. The programme will cover the period of 2014-20 and offer an additional two million students in higher education the opportunity to study or train abroad. The novelty is that it encompasses education, training, youth and sport (as it replaces seven existing programmes) and has a budget of almost 15 million euro, which represents a 40 per cent increase over the funding for the previous seven-year period.

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