A roundtable on 2 December brought together policy makers, civil society organisations, government representatives and researchers to discuss the timely topic of investment in education. As a background document for the roundtable discussions SOLIDAR launched its new publication, “Building learning societies: investing in education and lifelong learning” with its country monitoring reports of 12 Member States and recommendations for both national and European policy makers, on contributing to improving the quality of and investment in education and lifelong learning.
The key findings of the desk research showed that:
- 19 Member States cut their education expenditure in 2012. Six of these decreased investment by more than 5%
- Average public expenditure (measured as a percentage of GDP) on education in the EU is 5.25%. The highest level among the 12 countries was in Sweden at 6.82% and the lowest in Bulgaria at 3.82%
- The most visible consequences of cuts in investment concern the quality of education as resources are decreased and access to education and LLL as well as the number of placements and opportunities.
- Vocational education and training has suffered the least from the cuts in investment, due to the higher labour market relevance of VET.
- Inequalities in education & lifelong learning are most apparent between those with migrant background and non-migrants.
- Participation rates and opportunities for non-formal learning vary greatly between countries. The EU average participation rate is 36.8%, but the highest among these 12 countries is in Sweden at 67% and the lowest is in Greece at 9.6%
- Validation arrangements of non-formal and informal learning are becoming more common, but lack of resources present a threat to further developments and to achieving the Council recommendation by 2018.
- Across all areas of education and lifelong learning, the focus has shifted towards higher labour market relevance and employability in the past years as a response to the economic crisis and unemployment.
In light of the newly published Jobs, Growth and Investment Package announced by the Juncker Commission, proposing over 300 billion euro of investment in areas like infrastructure in education, the roundtable discussed the role of investment in education and lifelong learning in the new agenda. Contributions from policy makers in different European institutions, trade unions and civil society sparked discussion on cuts in education budgets nationally and the priorities for where investment in education should be directed. Martin Myant, Senior Researcher and Head of the ETUI’s European Economic, Employment and Social Policy unit voiced his concerns on the direction of the Investment Package: “The investment package focuses on physical things, neglecting other aspects of education. We will have school buildings, but no teachers to teach in them.”
Jonathan Hill, the Head of Cabinet of the Commissioner for Education, Culture and Youth, pointed out in his intervention that none of the problems brought forward by the crisis mean that the Commission has forgotten the intrinsic value of education: “Education is where people can grow to their full potential”.
Apart from the new European agenda, current trends in education and lifelong learning were also examined, in contributions from the OECD and the representative of the Finnish government, setting out the realities in education globally and nationally. Education today is becoming a central mechanism for determining life opportunities, playing a powerful role in social outcomes. Dirk Van Damme, Head of the Innovation and Measuring Progress Division of the OECD’s Directorate for Education and Skills reminded the audience of an important aspect when talking about investment: “The social return of education is always higher than the public investment in education.”
SOLIDAR Secretary General, Conny Reuter concluding the event stated that “Building learning societies means investing in education” thus we need investment in education, lifelong learning, validation of leaning outcomes of NFIL and the overall better coordination between different institutions and stakeholders.