Education revolution: the role of EU institutions, management and law (Part V)

The EU institutions are exercising their management, executive and administrative functions to support and coordinate the states’ measures in education and training. In implementing necessary education policy changes, the EU has developed a set of legislative instruments forming a vital part in the perspective European education revolution. In this way the EU responds to present challenges in defining EU-wide educational policy for generations to come. 

Education and training, as well as culture, youth and sport are among most essential issues in the member states’ political economy and governance. All other cross-sectoral spheres are associated –directly and/or indirectly – with education policies, i.e. employment, political and economic models, entrepreneurship, innovation, etc.; they supplement and encourage highly qualified and adaptable population’s transformation, strengthen social cohesion and active citizenship. It is only through general and special education the member states are able to develop and strengthen national perspective growth models as a background of European socio-economic and political integration. Hence, additional attention in the EU’s political guidance is given to supporting the states’ efforts in designing and implementing optimal and progressive national education policies.
   The fifth article reveals specific policy, management and legal instruments through which the EU’s institutional mechanisms transfer coordinating and supplementing measures into practical dimension in the states’ education and training measures.

EU’s “executive component” in education policies
The EU-wide executive functions, concentrated in the Commission, as well as the EU legal order are the main components of the EU’s implementation system to assist the member states’ efforts in progressive education reforms. Regardless of the restrictive “formal arrangements” (the education policies are in the states’ governance), the best way for the member states in facing global education’s challenge is both “to take part in “unified” EU-states efforts and formulate most optimal national growth models with adequate national education approaches.
Generally, each state shall arrange a national coordinating system of scientists (uniting economists and politicians, engineers and specialists in nature protection, renewable energy and environment quality, etc.) to deal with the sustainable development solutions networks (so-called national SDSNs), as it is already done on the global level. The global SDSN’s road-map was founded in 2012 to build a network of knowledge institutions that support action-oriented research to help address some of the world’s most pressing problems; presently, this global network unites tens of national and regional SDSN networks and over 1,300 participating member institutions. The SDSN-system “mobilizes scientific and technological knowledge” to promote practical solutions for sustainable growth.
More in SDSN website at: https://landportal.org/es/organization/united-nations-sustainable-development-solutions-network.
In January 2019, the European Commission adopted a reflection paper “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030” which, on one side showed the EU states’ progress in implementing SDGs and, on another side, identified some priorities in moving forward. Among the vital priorities the following were mentioned: developing a fully circular economy, creating a sustainable food system, making steps to “green energy”; sustainable mobility, tourism and construction sector, etc. However, such items as “sustainable education”, digital agenda financial sector and taxation were mentioned in the so-called “horizontal policy tools”.
More in the Commission reflection paper: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-19-701_en.htm; additional source: European Union’s progress report-2019 on sustainable development in: http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/modern_eu/?doc=150343&ins_print

Education is high on the EU’s political agenda: the Commission strives to reach the goals of the European education area by 2025, which are about enhancing learning, cooperation and excellence; it is also about opening up opportunities for all, strengthening values and enabling young people to develop a European identity. The reforms are encouraging education and training in the states to strengthened ambition in this area, with the Commission’s role in significantly boosting funding for young people education and learning.
More on European education area in: https://ec.europa.eu/education/education-in-the-eu/european-education-area_en
Commission’s urgent measures in adjusting existing national education, training, science and innovation policies to modern challenges (adopted at the end of 2017) aimed to sustain competitiveness in education in the process of increased growth, creating more united and stronger labour market and reducing socio-economic inequalities among the EU states. As soon as education is a “supporting” EU activity, the Commission measures are directed at effective implementation of the “education competitiveness” in Europe and the world. Thus, the first European Education Summit (January 2018) concentrated on “laying the foundations of the European Education Area for an innovative, inclusive and values based education”; the Commission included the following three directions in “supporting” activities:
a) developing “key competences for lifelong learning”; rapid evolution of teaching and learning shall be coordinated with the key competences of people of all ages, e.g. in promoting entrepreneurial and innovation-oriented mindsets, creativity and self-initiative. The Commission recommends steps to foster competences in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (so-called STEM system) and motivate young people to embark in creative industries. General efforts to improve member states’ education system shall be in line with modern challenges: by preparing better learners, for changing labour markets and assisting active citizens through a diverse, climate-oriented and digital skilling with vocational training transformations.
b) creating the European Digital Education Action Plan, that outlines how the EU can help people, educational institutions and education systems better adapt to life and work in an age of rapid digital change by: a) making better use of digital technology for teaching and learning; b) developing digital competences and skills needed for living and working in an age of digital transformation; and c) improving education through better data analysis and foresight. Thus, the “digital action plan” aimed to support schools with high-speed broadband connections, scaling up new self-assessment tools for schools and use of technology for teaching and learning (SELFIE) with public awareness campaign on online safety, digital literacy and cyber security.
c) creating a “European dimension of teaching” to assist young people in understanding the importance of common European values (depicted in the EU basic law, art. 2 TFEU) as well as strengthening social cohesion, combating extreme populism and xenophobia. This proposal also strengthens inclusive and quality education for all pupils, so children could also learn more about Europe’s common heritage and cultural diversity. To support these goals, the Commission will increase virtual exchanges among schools, notably through e-twinning network, and boosting school mobility through the European Erasmus+ program.
     Note on legislative background in EU management. Heads of State and Government informally discussed education and training at the Gothenburg Social Summit in November 2017, guided by the Commission’s note on “strengthening European identity through education and culture”. This resulted in the Council conclusion (December 2017) on practical implementation of the Social Summit and “skills agenda for Europe” aimed at promoting common values, inclusive education, and the European dimension of teaching build on Paris Declaration on promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education adopted by the EU Education Ministers in March 2015.
More information in the following web links: =Factsheet on the European Education Area; =Factsheet on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning; =Factsheet on the Digital Education Action Plan; =Factsheet on promoting common values, inclusive education, and the European dimension of teaching. Reference to: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-102_en.htm

The EU executive functions in education are also subject to legal regulations: thus, such basic organizational instruments as the European Training Foundation (ETF) and European Education area by 2025, as well as guidelines for the European qualifications in lifelong learning and renewed EU agenda for higher education, to name a few are having legal background. For example, activities of such entities as the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) and EU Erasmus+ program in education are all based on strict legal foundation.
For example, Erasmus+ program (one of the rear regulatory-type legislation in education) supports several European integration priorities in the European Education Area, the digital education action plan, the 2019-2027 EU youth strategy, the European skills agenda, etc.
See e.g. Erasmus+ regulation (adopted in 2021) in: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=legissum%3A4529781.

Executing financing measures in education revolution 
Among the most important Commission’s executive powers are those to execute financial support for national education efforts. The main EU’s financial instrument in supporting the states recovery/resilience plans is NextGenerationEU mechanism of €806.9 billion (the whole EU’s 2021-2027 long-term budget is over €2 trillion in current prices).
Note: the multiannual financial framework is made up of €1.211 trillion combined with the €806.9 billion for the NextGenerationEU program. Recovery and resilience facility is of €723,8 billion, divided almost equally between two facilities (in the form of grants – €338.0 billion and loans – €385.8 billion) and other programs (including education) of € 83,1 billion. The grants are divided among the EU-27 states according to allocation criteria, including the size of Gross Domestic Product, GDP per capita, unemployment levels, population and the impact of the coronavirus crisis. More than half of the total yearly EU budget amount and that of the NextGenerationEU program will support European modernisation through research and innovation, climate and digital transitions, as well as education and training.
Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/eu-budget/long-term-eu-budget/2021-2027/whats-new_en

Among specific financial instruments is European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) to benefit education process in universities; EFSI was established in mid-2015 by the European Commission with the aim to mobilise private investment, ensure that investments reach the real economy and facilitate states’ wellbeing. About € 2.2 billion for the EFSI were taken from Horizon 2020, the EU’s framework programme for research and innovation, most important beneficiary for European universities. According to European University Association (EUA) review released in 2017, universities did not benefitting from the funding scheme: over 70 percent of EFSI financing went to infrastructure development in different sectors and to SME support and only 23 percent was awarded to research, education and innovation. According to the review, EFSI has failed to bring universities and industry closer together within joint research and development projects, as originally promised, argued Th. Estermann, Director for governance, funding and public policy at EUA. He pointed out three reasons why EFSI as a loan scheme is not suited to support collaborative university research in the current climate of declining national public funding and considering that many universities are not even allowed to take out loans. Meanwhile, such collaborative research is highly needed to address current societal challenges, foster sustainable economic recovery and find innovative solutions to the problems Europe is facing. Given the results of the review, EUA calls upon the European Commission and other EU institutions to: a) avoid taking more money from Horizon 2020 and feed unused money from EFSI back to those parts that foster basic and collaborative research through grants; b) increase highly-successful grant funding programs to fund academic research and education instead of further developing financial instruments and loan-schemes; and c) continue the EFSI initiative only if it really delivers on the assumed leverage effect and proves to unleash private investment.
Source: “One year of EFSI: What’s in it for universities?” – EUA Review, 2017.

The present situation in funding universities at local, regional, national and European levels looks the following way: the EU-27 states spend, on average, about 0, 8 percent of their GDP on tertiary education, ranging from 0,3 to 1,7 percent. Average government expenditure for research and development in higher education institutions in the EU is about 0, 48 percent of GDP. Although the EU is going to invest a significant amount to support universities, estimated at € 80 billion during 2021-2027, higher education sector will benefit from other EU’s sources, including Erasmus+, Horizon Europe, Digital Europe, the Recovery and Resilience Facility, as well as numerous funds under shared management in the InvestEU program.
Source: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statisticsexplained/index.php?title=R_%26_D_expenditure#Gross_domestic_expenditure_on_R.26D.

Specifically, financial support for the first 17 so-called “European universities” equals to about €85 million; each university alliance will receive up to €5 million in the coming three years to start implementing their plans and pave the way for other higher education institutions across the EU to follow. More information in the following web sites:
-Factsheet in https://ec.europa.eu/education/sites/education/files/document-library-docs/education_european_universities_factsheet_2019_final.pdf; -European Universities Initiative; general reference: Commission press release “First 17 European Universities selected: a major step towards building a European Education Area”, Brussels, 26 June 2019, in: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-19-3389_en.htm?locale=en

EU legislation efforts in educational revolution
The “legal adjustments” in the EU education and training measures (often called “European education law”), can be divided into two spheres: general and specific. As to general, these measures include: a) EU basic law, i.e. art. 165, 166 TFEU; and b) provisions on sectoral actions in the states, such as education’s contribution to national growth, improving competences and learning for schools and quality of teacher education, generating entrepreneurship in education and training, etc. For example, the issue of “ensuring quality in vocational education and training” (VET) is a sphere of particular importance for the national education policy; in this regard, a recommendation ( adopted in June 2009 with amendments in 2014) established a European quality assurance reference framework for vocational education and training, which is one of a series of European initiatives designed to encourage labour mobility; it helps countries to promote and monitor improvements in their vocational education and training systems.
General information on these regulations in:
https://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/chapter/15.html?expand=1501,1504,1506,1598,1599. Reference to VET quality in: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv%3AOJ.C_.2009.155.01.0001.01.ENG (Official Journal C 155 of 8.7.2009, pp. 1-10).
As to specific issues, such spheres of assistance are included: improving competences and learning in schools, European qualifications for lifelong learning, technology resources in education, Europass, multilingualism and lawyers practicing abroad, mobility for students, Eurydice network and quality in education, etc.
See more in Bologna process: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=legissum%3Ac11088; and a communication (2012) on education systems strategy for skilled workforce and more jobs in: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=legissum%3A150201_1.

Background: European management in education
A couple of remarks shall be made to understand the EU-wide approach to education integration. First of all, it is to be seen that the “nature of education” includes such vital spheres in modern political economy as science, technology and innovation. Here comes an initial regulatory problem: as is well known, education is in the EU’s “supporting” competence, while science and technology – in the shared one: even in the Commission’s College there are usually separate commissioners for these issues, i.e. one for education, another one for science, research and innovation; however, both are usually best performed in the national institutions of high education (and some, in big industries).
Secondly, spheres of science and research are in the shared competence between the EU and the member states: “In the areas of research, technological development and space, the Union shall have competence to carry out activities, in particular to define and implement programs; however, the exercise of that competence shall not result in the member states being prevented from exercising theirs”, acknowledged the EU law (art.4, p.3, TFEU).
Besides, the TEU Preamble (which is not however legally binding) mentioned the EU new motto (instead of the previous “united in diversity”) to “continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity”.
See: Lisbon Treaty: Consolidated version, TEU, Preamble, Official Journal of the European Union C 83/13, 30.03.2010.
The legal obligations are formulated in the EU law: “the Union shall have competence to carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the member states. The areas of such actions shall, at the European level, be: protection and improvement of human health, industry, culture, tourism; education, vocational training, youth and sport; civil protection, and administrative cooperation” (art. 6, TFEU).
More in: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/chapter/education_training_youth.html?root_default=SUM_1_CODED%3D15&locale=en

Main directions in the European-wide education policy
The European dimension in higher education, science, research and innovation will be boosted by four flagships initiatives extended to at least mid-2024:
• Expand to 60 European Universities with more than 500 higher education institutions by mid-2024, with an Erasmus+ indicative budget totaling €1.1 billion for 2021-2027. The aim is to develop and share a common long-term structural, sustainable and systemic cooperation on education, research and innovation, creating European inter-university campuses where students, staff and researchers from all parts of Europe can enjoy seamless mobility and create new knowledge together, across countries and disciplines.
• Work towards a legal statute for alliances of higher education institutions to allow them to pool resources, capacities and their strengths, with an Erasmus+ pilot as of 2022.
• Work towards a joint European degree to recognise the value of transnational experiences in the higher education qualification the students obtain and cut the red tape for delivering joint programs.
• Scale-up the European Student Card initiative by deploying a unique European Student Identifier available to all mobile students in 2022 and to all students in universities in Europe by mid-2024, to facilitate mobility at all levels.
Reference to: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_365

An additional objective of the EU strategy for universities is aimed at strengthening the European dimension and the role of universities in the green and digital transition, as well as promoting European way of life. Particular attention is to be paid to the provision of specialized education in digital fields at European level, such as AI, cybersecurity or high performance computing, etc. Ambitious education strategy also involves mobilizing resources: in total around €80 billion will be invested in higher education at national and regional levels during 2021-2027.  Source: Commission press release at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/speech_22_413

Monitoring states’ education and training process is among Commission’s managerial functions: the EU’s “monitor” is an annual report that shows how the EU’s education and training systems are evolving by bringing together a wide array of evidence: e.g. the states’ progress in the “education and training targets”. The analysis of education challenges and trends recorded in the “monitor” helps to inform the treatment of education issues in the annual European Semester process; furthermore, it helps to identify where EU funding facilities for education, training and skills should be used to supplement the member states’ long-term budgets. The Monitor analyses the main challenges for European education systems and presents policies that can make them more responsive to societal and labour market needs; besides, it comprises a cross-country comparison with in-depth country reports.
More on the EU education targets in: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/education-and-training/eu-benchmarks

One of the examples is the pre-pandemic edition of the European Commission’s Education and Training Monitor-2018, which shows that states still need reforms in e.g. basic skills, where efforts are required to ensure young people’s abilities to read, write and do math’s properly to become active and responsible citizens. Thus, the share of pupils dropping out of school without a diploma fell to 10.6% in 2017, very close to the objective of less than 10% by 2020. This, nevertheless, still means that more than one in ten pupils faces difficult prospects for further education or for a solid entry into the labour market with fewer opportunities available for adult learning. The percentage of those completing tertiary education rose to 39.9%, almost reaching the goal of 40% agreed on for 2020. And already more than 95% of children aged four or older participated in early childhood education and care, slightly more than the target of at least 95%. The Monitor also looks at how much the EU states spend on education, which is an important investment in economic and social development. In 2016, public funding for education rose by 0.5% in real terms compared to the previous year. However, many states are still investing less in education than they did before the economic crisis, and thirteen EU states actually spent less, including the three Baltic States.

Towards European Education and Research Areas
In January 2022, the European Commission presented some proposals aimed at modernising the member states’ higher education systems towards realization of the European Education and Research Areas. For the first time in EU’s education policy more fundamental and close links will be established between education, research and innovative industrial communities among the EU-27, making Europe a leader in scientific progress. The EU’s educational background is quite fundamental: there are about 5,000 higher education establishments in the 27 member states with about 17.5 million students and over 1.4 million teachers and almost 200,000 European researchers.
In taking the necessary measures for recovery and resilience, education policies are more vital than ever: early childhood education and care, schools, vocational education and training (VET), higher education, research, adult education, as well as non-formal learning have a key role to play in modern national political-economy’s transformations. In education policies a holistic approach to education and training shall be adopted to recognise its intrinsic value component in the national and the EU recovery and resilience.
Reforms in education policies and consequential transformation of high schools and universities have to be accelerated to prepare young people for the jobs of tomorrow in a fast-changing society, and decision-makers to be empowered for solutions reflecting modern European and global challenges. The EU’s efforts to create “European universities” represent ideas that would change traditional approaches to a nation-concentrated sphere into a continental one.
The EU-states cooperation is ensuring that education systems deliver: recent EU efforts reflect the increasing role of education in fostering progressive and sustainable growth: states have also made further progress towards reforming and modernising education systems, regardless of the fact that the EU’s education policy has only supplementary and supporting the member states measures. The EU is closely watching the member states’ efforts in meeting the EU’s long-term targets and intensifies management and legislative measures: e.g. Commission has given fresh impetus to states in promoting European shared values in inclusive education and the European dimension of teaching.

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