European “education revolution”: facing challenges and finding solutions

EU’s integration is facing numerous problems, such as digital and climate, energy and health, transport and defence, to name a few. Recently an additional issue has appeared, i.e. an “education challenge”, which has occupied a vital place among existing ones. Schools and universities are being presently occupied with desperate attempts to specify their place and role in the national actions towards sustainable and resilient societies. Therefore, the states’ reforms aimed at greener, inclusive and digital economies in great extent depend on adequate skills, qualifications and revolutionary changes in education policies. 

The EII decided to make a short analysis of some of the most vital issues in ongoing fundamental changes in education/training policies. The first article is a sort of introduction to the set of articles devoted to main theoretical and practical aspects in modern reforming trends in education policy at national and the EU-wide levels. For further reading, please look in the corresponding EII’s rubrics…

Note. The EU institutions and the member states’ efforts to adapt to new European/global challenges in education, science, research and innovation (often called “education union”), due to their urgency and complexity could be termed a new European “education revolution”. By following our articles, the readers will get a concise view on contemporary state-of-art and modern trends in the EU and the states policies concerning education, training, science, research and innovation, i.e. grasping ongoing progress in modern educational revolution.

Complex challenges for education
Main EII’s attention recently has been to the growing importance of global challenges for the European growth and integration, for perspective socio-economic development in the member states, with particular attention to decision-making, businesses, digital and sustainability issues, etc. Presently, the challenges spread to education and training providers, to science, technology and innovation: the EU-27 states’ efforts are now concentrated to tackling these challenges which have turned education policies into “education revolution”.
The challenges of the 4th “industrial revolution”, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the climate-change global agreement (occasionally, adopted about the same time, at the end of 2015) have already dramatically affected existing educational policies followed by complex transformation measures in tackling arousing socio-economic problems.
Changing employment situations (e.g. due to teleworking, flexible occupation’s time, etc.) and renewed national priorities (e.g. due to twin digital-climate transition) have coped with the “smart specialisation” strategies and circular economy directions, which required both re-skilling and teaching new skills adequate to modern changes. Hence “education revolution”, among other things, is about new directions in accelerating education for SDGs and circularity, etc. to equip students with knowledge and skills for progressive socio-economic development.
Thus, the fundamental changes in education policies under the influence of global and European challenges, the multiple effects of the present post-pandemic period on growth and consumption, and the modern national recovery-resilience plans’ impetus on new skills and re-skilling, to name a few, are forcing contemporary governance into fundamental education’s transformations, or just into the “education revolution”.

European support for “education revolution” in the states
It has been historically arranged in the European integration process that the main responsibilities for education and training as well as in such spheres as culture, tourism, human health (and even in industrial development) have been constantly within the EU member states’ competence. The EU institutions, however, are having “competence to carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the member states”, as is acknowledged in the EU Treaties (art.6 TEU). Following this legislative background, the EU institutions and bodies have developed a series of so-called “soft-policy-tools” to assist and support states in designing and implementing progressive education policies.
Thus, modern EU measures additionally help the member states, on one side, to accommodate their educational policies towards European political guidelines; on another side, assisting the states in adopting necessary measures facing global challenges while resolving modern national recovery and resilience development programs.
Therefore in the arsenal of the EU measures are: e.g. advice and support for high quality and inclusive education, as well as providing students with the needed knowledge and skills for adequate response to new opportunities and challenges opened by globalisation and technological changes (the latter are already incorporated into the national education policies) in order to tackle the needs of the perspective labour market’s requirements.
The EU and the state’ “united” measures could lead to a sort of “standardization” in education policies on the European continent, the efforts that would both elevate education quality to a higher level and attract global attention to progressive education models.
On standardization measures in the EU’s approach see: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_22_661.

National recovery plans and human resources
Among contemporary European challenges that need urgent member states’ effective actions are such as energy deficiency and post-pandemic stress, aging population and public health, climate measures’ mitigation and preventing pollution, etc. These and other challenges can be effectively tackled only through a fundamental “re-design” of the old-patter education policies in order to transform the latter along the paths of creating new skills and competences required for modern welfare growth patterns and implementation of the new transformation models.
Human capital is one of the main European competitive advantages; hence, high quality education (not only at all levels but in most urgent problematic issues) is becoming essential for the member states future; actually, education is a key to helping young people being both strong in life and withstand future shocks. Therefore, during last decades, almost constant process of education’s “modernisation” in the states has been in the EU institutions’ plans and strategies – from early childhood education and care, through schools and onto higher education, vocational training, followed by the system of continued learning throughout a person’s life.
Besides, rather recently, “quality education” has been acknowledged as one of the global sustainable goals (SDGs) by the UN Agenda-2030 adopted in 2016, and depicted in a special education goal, SDG-4. Thus, quality education has become a starting point for new efforts at global and European level for successful professional career, best way towards employment, eradicating poverty around the world and providing solid foundation for personal development and active civil societies.
For the EU, quality education is a very vital issue: to make the European integration process flourish all European states need perfect and updated education systems: therefore, the aim of constant EU initiatives is to provide states’ governance, decision-making bodies and education providers with the necessary steps for improving educational opportunities for young people and adults. With this progressive education strategy, the EU has become an attractive destination for foreign students: while about 43 percent of the students in tertiary education level are from the EU member states, over 30 percent are from Asian and 12 percent from Africa countries; in the pre-pandemic period the majority of students in about half of EU states have been from outside Europe. For example, in the United Kingdom more than half (51%) of the tertiary students are from abroad (mainly from Asian countries), in France, 42% of tertiary students are from Africa, while the share of students from the Caribbean, Central and South America was particularly high in Spain (45%). This data shows another important quality education’s facet: it is becoming a strong component of foreign revenues.
In this regard, European states are bound to constantly invest in quality education paying particular attention to lifelong learning perspectives, inclusive and equitable education to girls, women, and vulnerable groups. The EU institutions in post-pandemic period are providing adequate support to member states in both transforming their education systems and in addressing deficits and inequalities in teaching, training, and learning at all levels.
The importance of quality and reformed education in Europe is being underlined by at least two major factors: a) successful implementation of modern recovery and resilience plans in the member states, and b) the objective necessity to “embrace” several SDGs (in transport, energy, quality of life, etc.) into inter-disciplinary teaching models in university’s chairs and/or departments.
Source: Eurostat data (17.xii.2021) in: http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?query=BOOKMARK_DS-541199_QID_-7B0AE1E3_UID_-3F171EB0&layout.

Modern education policy for national growth
Modern challenges have already transformed the main EU political guidelines and strategies in the member states recovery-resilience plans (RRPs). Two main directions in such transformation have taken the dominant position: i.e. the so-called “green deal” (with transforming economic models along climate neutral goals) and digital agenda (which included digitalisation of economies and societies).
Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/recovery-plan-europe_en

As soon as climate change is one of the biggest modern European challenges, the EU-27 states are committed to turn their economies towards “climate-neutral continent by 2050” and reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. No doubt, facing these challenges, the member states have to re-direct their education and training systems along strategies towards preparing adequate personnel and working groups with new skills needed for dealing with such challenges.
For example in the EU political guidance concerning “strong Europe in the world”, the European Commission introduced the “Global Gateway”, a new development strategy for 2024-27 (adopted in 2021) to boost smart, clean and secure “links” in digital, energy and transport sectors, as well as strengthening health, education and research systems in the EU and across the world. Through “global gateway” the EU intends to intensify investment efforts towards infrastructure development in the EU-27 and in the world; thus, up to 2027, the “Team Europe project” (uniting the EU institutions and the member states) will mobilize up to € 300 billion of investments in such sectors as digital agenda and climate mitigation, energy and transport, as well as public health, education and research.
Besides, the “global gateway” initiative is the EU’s contribution to narrowing the global investment gap, which is in line with the global leaders’ commitment (e.g. in G7 June 2021 summit) to launch a values-driven, high-standard and transparent infrastructure partnership to meet global infrastructure development needs; it is also aligned with the UN’s Agenda 2030 with its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change.
For example, the EU will invest in quality education, including digital education, with a particular attention to the education systems’ transform and facilitating mobility of students, staff, teachers, and trainees; besides, the EU will work with partner countries to strengthen cooperation on research and innovation.
More on “global gateway” in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/stronger-europe-world/global-gateway_en

Some EU states have been already active in implementing their RRPs: thus, France has taken solid steps in resilience’s measures; accordingly, it received a significant payment under the European recovery plan, NextGenerationEU with about € 7, 4 billion. These “external resources” will be used for the following directions: decarbonizing transport and industry, investing in progressive projects in energy renovation, technological innovation, youth employment and apprenticeships, as well as making a more robust national insurance system. Actually, these are those forward-looking national RRPs and projects that the EU institutions are eager to finance; in total France will receive nearly € 40 billion under the NextGenerationEU program to support French successive moves towards recovery and resilience.
Source: Commission press release (26.01.2022) at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/da/statement_22_629.

General and specific guidelines in “education revolution”
Main directions in the EU’s education policy are presently re-assessed through the successive implementing of the global sustainable development goals (SDGs); they include, first of all at the ability of states’ education policies to accommodate all 17 SDGs with the additional 169 targets into the modern political economy’s structures. In this sense, the main direction in the process of “teaching SDGs” can be divided among several levels of national education policies: i.e. in schools, colleagues, higher education institutions, both general and special.
Firstly, the main idea is: teaching and training today’s youth by providing them with contemporary needed knowledge and skills to implement national RRPs; future-oriented policy and economy decision makers shall provide the “working class” with necessary basic knowledge according to the 4th industrial revolution challenges with new approach to a system-thinking-analytics and modern solutions of complex socio-economic problems associated with the SDGs.
Secondly, existing education institutions and national teaching methods shall be basically re-assessed: e.g. higher education institutions shall teach the necessary skills needed for implementing SDGs; the teaching methods shall be adapted for the needed professional skills to practical SDGs realisation in the transformed national socio-economic models.
Besides, long-term professional and vocational education/training shall be available through people’s life span. All national middle- and high- education institutions shall provide valuable teaching methods also for future decision-makers providing them with the necessary skills.
For example, cross-sectoral approaches to syllabus and curricular shall intervene into the cross-faculty approaches to a new knowledge system to include SDGs components and system’s thinking. Besides, the following aspects shall be considered in knowledge-revealing education: “teach-the-teachers” about the SDGs requirements; develop new e-learning skills in SDGs; creating partnerships with other universities in teaching SDGs; providing coordination among national political, economic, business, cultural and educational authorities to facilitate the SDGs implementation, as well as exchange of positive practices and results in teaching SDGs.

New supporting measures for states’ education policies
As is seen, generally, the “revolutionary” aspect in education is multiple and varied; however, it is rotating between two major directions: e.g. a) supplying theoretical knowledge, practical experience and learning from good experience on strengthening the SDGs implementation and application in the member states, and b) providing a research platform for sharing and exchanging information on the necessary resources, skills, approaches, and methodologies needed to equip students and future public policy’s managers with legal, social and economic aspects of green and digital transitions, on one side, and changing old-fashioned political economies, on the other.
Thus, in the arsenal of EU means in supporting states’ education policies have appeared new directions:
= re-assessed education policies, to address new challenges in political economy, including specific adult learning, teaching quality assurance, new trends in vocational education and training, standards in teaching and teachers’ training, increasing quality of higher education, as well as recognition of skills and qualifications;
= setting educational objectives and measuring progress in the states, including a specific framework for cooperation in education and investment through the European Semester; and
= international cooperation in education, including active states’ participation in higher education around the world and following International Standard Classification of Education, ISCED.
More in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/education/policy-educational-issues_en and https://education.ec.europa.eu. Additional for funding opportunities for education and training in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/education/set-projects-education-and-training/find-all-funding-opportunities-education-and-training_en

Specific place in the EU supporting measures occupy teaching methods and materials: thus, the European Commission helps countries develop teaching methods, and offers related resources for educational staff. Educational materials are available on several collaborative platforms supported by the European Commission.
More in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/education/teaching-methods-and-materials_en

Modern EU efforts in twin transformation in the states include, generally, a rapid shift in national economies towards climate neutral and digital economy-society patterns; the latter are closely connected to increasing opportunities in the states in developing right skills in employment. The EU has adopted before the pandemic in 2016 the “European Skills Agenda” (with 12 specific actions, then as a five-year plan) to help individuals and businesses develop more and better skills and to put them to active use. Some important contemporary measures include: strengthening sustainable competitiveness, as set out in the European Green Deal; ensuring social fairness, by putting into practice the principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights (incl. access to education, training and lifelong learning for everybody), and building resilience to react to crises, based on the lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More in: https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1223&langId=en

The EU’s “skill forecast” summarizes key future trends in jobs and skills for the member states up to 2030, offering a concise outlook on national employment trends by sector, occupational group and education level, as well as developments in the working age population by age and gender. Implications for future labour market imbalances can be identified when demand and supply are looked at together. A common methodology and harmonised data ensure comparability of results across EU-27; the estimations are consistent with official EU economic forecasts and population projections.
More in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/education/skills-and-qualifications/what-skills-will-employers-be-looking_en; on EU “skill forecast” for the states in: https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/country-reports/skills-forecasts.

For example, specifically, the Danish report provides a general overview of employment and labour force developments, employment trends for different sectors, and a detailed breakdown of future job openings in different occupations. Besides, differences between the future needs in skills demand and the forecasted supply are also revealed.
See: https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/country-reports/denmark-2020-skills-forecast.

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