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The Council of the European Union has put forward to the June European Council specific headline targets for education within the framework of the Europe 2020 Srategy. The proposed figures represent one of the five suggested targets for Europe’s 10-year strategy that were provided by the European Commission in March 2010. The agreement comes after Germany signaled concerns in March that the education targets could impinge on the country’s federal competences.
While individual Member States may have divergent national targets, the proposal now endorsed by the education ministers sets the bar for the entire EU. Specifically, it indicates that governments at the highest level agree that school drop-out rates shall be reduced from 15% to 10% and that the share of the population having completed tertiary education or its equivalent should be at least 40%. The current ministerial agreement gives the green light to move ahead.
The real question now is how EU Member States can step up to the challenges of student retention and degree completion in an economic and political atmosphere defined by strict fiscal austerity measures. Although the current economic crisis may encourage students to stay in education as long as possible, there are decreasing resources available for education in general. The result seems to be a swing towards lower quality mass education, which had already been the trend across Europe well before the crisis hit. Carving target numbers into stone will also require paying careful attention to the ebb and flow of the financial opportunities and limitations that often carry the day.
Apart from the newly agreed upon targets, the Education Council also put forward during the same meeting another ground breaking initiative. Acknowledging the increasingly challenging global competition to ‘secure ever larger shares of mobile international students’, the education ministers invited the European Commission, within the limit of its competencies under EU law, to develop in cooperation with member states an EU internationalisation strategy for higher education.