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European leaders discuss concrete proposals for European Education Area by 2025

17 November 2017 might become a cornerstone in the history of education in Europe. On this date and in Gothenburg (Sweden), European leaders held an informal meeting in which they discussed the role of education and culture in strengthening European identity and making Europe more competitive on the global scene. The gathering, which took place a few weeks before the closing event of the 30th anniversary of the Erasmus programme, served as a forum for reflections on what has been done so far and what could and should be done in the future. 

The meeting followed-up on the 14 November 2017 European Commission’s Communication Strengthening European Identity through Education and Culture, in which education and culture are indicated as the keys to increase employability, foster social cohesion, active citizenship and reinforce European identity. The policy document lists a number or actions and measures that should, in the view of the European Commission, and if taken, lead to the establishment of a “European Education Area” by 2025. Below are some of the referenced courses of action: 

  • Making learning mobility a reality for all, by increasing the mobility budget, encouraging mobility in the areas where Europe needs more expertise; 
  • Removing obstacles to the recognition of qualifications: by expanding the recognition of diplomas to secondary school level through the so-called “Sorbonne process”;
  • Creating a network of “European universities”, an idea mentioned also by French President Macron during his electoral campaign, to reinforce and structure cooperation among higher education institutions and allow cross-border financing from EU budget. 
  • Improving education and promoting lifelong learning;
  • Boosting language learning;
  • Modernising curricula development;
  • Driving innovation and digital skills in education;
  • Supporting teachers; 
  • Preserving cultural heritage and fostering a sense of European identity. 
The Communication puts thus forward a number of ambitious goals, that go across all educational levels, and aim to culminate in the creation of one, coherent area of education in Europe by 2025. While it seems that the plan is to take into account these proposals when discussing the next generation of EU programmes and the next Multiannual Financial Framework MFF), it is already clear that attracting private funding will be a must as well. 

While this initiative builds on decades-long work of the EU and member states in the area of education and training cooperation, and on concrete past initiatives and policy documents, the new Communication does not always make clear how it relates to previous efforts and processes. 

For example, in the field of higher education, it is quite noteworthy the lack of direct references to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), officially launched in 2010 as the culminating point of the Bologna Process. The latter is mentioned only in passing in the new Communication, when discussing remaining obstacles in the area of recognition. While the EHEA remains work in progress, as does the European Research Area, they might serve as a model for building greater compatibility between diverse (higher) education systems and deliver some important lessons learnt for building a common space of education. 

Another important point would be to specify how these more recently-set ambitions relate to other recent EU policy documents that have set targets for the same immediate future (up to 2020 to 2025). While Europe needs ambitious visions, duplication and fragmentation of policies and initiatives, both at EU and member state level, should be further avoided. 

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