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Erasmus for All: clouds of confusion

Ever since the European Commission officially announced its proposal for the new programme for education, training, youth and sport - Erasmus for All - it has been scrutinised over and over by just about everyone with a stake in the current Lifelong Learning Programme. With the negotiation procedure with the European Parliament currently under way, the latest two EU institutions to join the discussion – the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) – have published their Opinions at the end of February and March respectively.

Despite the different roles and functions each institution plays within the larger framework of the EU, the two Opinions share a number of common themes. Not surprisingly, both have expressed their strong support for the proposed increase in the programme’s budget and both support in principle the new streamlined structure with three key actions. However, whereas the EESC welcomes the strong focus of the proposal on mobility, CoR on the other hand would prefer to magnify the role of cooperation and collaborative projects in increasing the quality of education and training.

For both institutions, though, the outline of the proposal’s target groups and sectoral budget allocations remain nebulous at best. The EESC suggests retaining the current sub-programmes with their brands and separate sectoral budgets, while the CoR would like to see more clarity in identifying the target groups and ensuring the funding reaches the beneficiaries that need it the most. Both, EESC and CoR, are concerned about the decreased presence of vocational training, adult education and youth in the new proposal as they contend that the continuity of a lifelong learning approach should be maintained and all target groups should be treated equally. 

The pair of Opinions only briefly touches upon issues specifically related to higher education. The EESC criticises the reduction of the number of European academic institutions pursuing an aim of European interest to two and calls for all six, currently supported under the Jean Monnet, to be included in the regulation. On the other hand, the CoR has a positive view of the new Masters Loan guarantee facility, but remains concerned about the scheme’s implementation through the European Investment Bank and its viability across the many national contexts.

It is interesting to note, how fluid opinions about the role of education and training in the current climate of the on-going economic crisis have become.  Although both the CoR and the EESC state their appreciation for the stronger connection the legal base makes to the political goals of the Europe 2020 strategy and the ET 2020 strategic framework, they equally express a wish for the new programme to address wider social issues confronting Europe today, including youth unemployment and social cohesion.

CoR and EESC also join a wide range of stakeholders and bodies that have pointed out the lack of clarity and detail in many areas of the Commission’s proposal and the accompanying Communication. Erasmus for All is essentially seen as another case of the Commission’s famed ‘constructive ambiguity’ approach to programme generation and although such approach certainly has its advantages in terms of flexibility, it also runs the risk that both the Council and the Parliament will transform Erasmus for All into what the current political climate would like it to be – a panacea for all the social problems facing Europe today – and not what the programme was originally designed to do.

Committee of the Regions European Economis and Social Committee