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On 19-20 June, the European Commission hosted in Brussels the 3rd Ministerial Meeting of the Western Balkans Platform on Education and Training (WB PET). The event brought together Ministers of Education and other government representatives, national delegations, EU officials and relevant bodies responsible for EU education and training programmes in the six Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia).
The event was important for several reasons. Firstly, it was a follow-up on the national studies conducted last year on the state of play of teacher education and training in the Western Balkans. National experts presented the findings at the meeting, on the basis of which each Minister of Education made a recommendation as to the future focus of national reforms, and the kind of regional cooperation that should be established to tackle common challenges in the teaching profession.
Secondly, it was at this event that most of the countries from the region finally signed an Agreement on partial participation in Erasmus+ (the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport 2014-2020). The Agreements were signed on 19 June with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. Now it is up to each country’s national parliament to ratify the Agreement in order to make the participation in Erasmus+ possible. Serbia had already signed its Agreement on 25 April, which entered into force a few days before the Ministerial Conference. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had also signed the agreement before the event and joined as a programme country, which means that it has right to full participation in Erasmus+, just like any other EU member state. The rest of the countries will take part in Erasmus+ as partner countries, meaning that they will participate only in those actions which are not managed by a National Agency (platforms and networks, but also higher education and youth mobility, as well as capacity building in HE and youth). Kosovo is the only country from the region not to join Erasmus+ this time, but talks with the EU on a Framework Agreement are underway.
The Ministerial Meeting was an opportunity to remind participants about cooperation opportunities in higher education, most of which were already available for the countries in the region, such as Joint Master Degrees/Marie Curie Fellowships (former Erasmus Mundus), capacity building (former Tempus), and Jean Monnet. The novelty for the Western Balkans is the international opening of Erasmus, which will allow for more mobility of students and staff between EU and the Western Balkans. Another new possibility is to participate in electronic platforms such as EPALE (adult education) and e-Twinning (school cooperation projects).
The Western Balkans Platform on Education and Training (WB PET) was launched in 2012 as an EU initiative for cooperation in education and training with the Western Balkan countries. It encourages regional cooperation and communication, as well as sharing of good practices in the region and in the EU. It also provides follow-up in terms of joint projects, studies and events. So far, three Ministerial meetings and three regional conferences have taken place under the auspices of WB PET, focusing respectively on the relevance of Higher Education, on Teacher Training and Education, and cooperation opportunities for the Western Balkans under Erasmus+. The next regional seminar, which will focus on the impact of EU higher education programmes in the Western Balkans (Erasmus Mundus, Tempus, Jean Monnet and Marie Curie) will take place in Serbia in autumn 2014.