The Education Policy of the European Union

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Education: Being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you dont. Its knowing where to go to find out what you need to know; and its knowing how to use the information once you get it. William A. Feather (1889-1981) American publisher and author.

When asked how much educated men were superior to those uneducated, Aristotle answered, 'As much as the living are to the dead.' Diogenes Laetius

"Upon the education of the people of this country, the fate of this country depends".
 Benjamin Disraeli

Education is the best provision for old age.

One needs only to refer to the quotes above to understand the importance of education. It is what defines us and by extension our society and nation. It is what we strive for. It is one of our basic rights so much so that governments have taken steps to guarantee it to a minimum level by enacting compulsory education at least through high school. But in the context of our analysis, what is pivotal is the role of education in producing well-rounded citizens, such citizens that will be called upon to decide the fate of their nations and by extend the future of the European Union.

Education is characteristic of a well-established nation. However, in the competitive world we live in the focus has shifted away from primary education to that offered by the institutions of higher learning: the Universities. It is within the walls of these institutions that leaders are forged. It is within these walls that countries acquire the competitive advantage they seek to develop. The members of the European Union are no different in this respect, however there is an added incentive; the deep level of integration experienced by them necessitates a closer coordination in the field for the competitive advantage is no loner a national issue. Governments and international organizations alike stress the vital role of universities in molding educated citizens. Academic institutions are no longer secluded from society and its concerns. They are no longer purely theoretical. If anything, many programs today are determined and closely related to both public and private sector needs.

Despite its importance, education within the EU remains a purely national domain. Each member states is responsible for deciding and implementing education policy thus, as a result, education needs are defined in a rather restrictive and ethnocentric way. The idea of a "European Institute" responsible for the further integration of the continent in the file of higher education was floated in 1948 at the Hague Congress and a year later at the European Cultural Conference. By the time of the Messina Conference (1955) Germany was promoting the idea of a European University under the Euratom Treaty as a training center for nuclear scientists. Such a move would have established an institute of higher learning as a direct community institution thus completing changing the nature of educational policy and challenging the dominance of national universities and their respective academic communities. Despite strong support by the European Commission and the European Parliament efforts by the Italian government to set up a European University failed manly due to French opposition. The French government, De Gaulle in particular, was adamant in applying the concept of "Europe des Parties" for he wanted to retain nation prerogative in awarding degrees and determining educational goal. The French opposition delayed the implementation of the idea and, by the time it came to fruition, its scope. ( The idea of a European University resurfaced along with the replacement of De Gaulle by Pompidou. At the 1969 Hague Conference the Europe of "six" made a commitment to establish and fund a "European University Institute in Florence". The shape and scope of the institution was determined in subsequent conferences. By the time of its inauguration it was not a direct community institute and it was only open to post graduate students. (Fiesolana,2009)

The educational policy of the EU is as diverse as the number of its members. While top-quality education and training are vital if Europe is to develop as a knowledge society and compete effectively in the globalizing world economy, there is no harmonization between the respective national policies of member states; at best members set common goals and share best practices. This paper analyzes the Education policy of the European Union.

In Europe there are 4000 higher education institutions, where there are over than 19 million students and about 1.5 million staff. There are many universities in Europe which are considered the best in the world. The majority of young people today do not go to university; here is an effort in which European Union Commission is asked to reinforce through the implementation of some programs which could allow young people to have an easy access in to higher education.

The role of European Commission is to maintain national efforts. European Commission does this firstly by working closely with policy makers from member States in order to develop their higher education policies. The Commission supports the Bologna process, the intergovernmental which promotes higher education in 47 countries. The Commission proposed the exchange of policy practice between different countries. This concludes in getting together dissimilar national experts from other countries. In this way EU citizens have the ability to share some common or different experiences with each other.

European Union education policy has developed over time, education and training applied a new style of policy formation that is named "open method of coordination". This method according to Lisbon agenda includes three main objectives for Europe's education and training systems. "The development of local learning centers, the promotion of new basic skills, in particular the information technologies, and increased transparency of qualifications" (Ertl, 2006). These are the objectives that the EU union sets in order the Europeans to gain a competitive advantage in a market. By setting clear objectives goals could be achieved more quickly and easily. These EU programs in the field of education and training were focused on the promotion of new technologies in learning processes and the increase of mobility within the EU. These are opportunities that EU union offers to its citizens to live, study and work in other countries by giving each individual the power in education.

The EU union Commission implements the Lifelong learning program which provides education and training opportunities for all the EU citizens. This program does not differentiate people according to their ages, it lets them to participate although their aging. This is done for the development of the education sector in Europe. This program includes exchanges, study visits and networking activities. This project helps not only learners but also, teachers and trainees. Under this program there are four sub- programs which fund projects at different levels of education.

The first one is Comenius program which refers to schools so, it is for younger ages. In this program should bond together students and educational activities. The second one is Erasmus related to higher education, which establish mostly an intercultural education. The other one is Leonardo da Vinci program which is for vocational education and training. This program offers placements in enterprises, and the last one is Grundtvig which is for adult education and should support the mobility of individuals.

More specifically, the Comenius program focuses on all levels of school education, beginning from pre-school, primary to secondary schools. This plan involves different categories such as students, teachers, local authorities, non-governmental organizations universities etc. By the implementation of this program students and teachers are helped in order to develop language skills, learning skills, because through the interaction they share experiences which became helpful for the enrichment of students and teachers education. The program priorities are to motivate learning, improve language skills, greater literacy and reinforcing creativity and innovation.

Erasmus is a well known program in Europe where the students have the opportunity to stay, live and study in another European country. Mostly 200.000 students each year study and work abroad. This program is funds co-operation between higher education institutions across Europe. This successful program enriches cultural learning, language, self-awareness so it is a valuable experience for each student that has the ability to practice. This experience gives opportunities to students such as to find a better job, especially when the country faces unemployment and economical crisis, the situation that Greece is now. The annual budget for this program excess 450 million euro; there are 33 countries that participate including the higher education institutions which are more than 4.000.

There are some efforts that EU union has done to facilitate high numbers of low skilled employees and ageing population. This effort is named Vocational Education and Training where low skilled individuals are prepared with the purpose of surviving in the tough and competitive market. This program has as a priority of developing individuals' skills and competences. Make them able for the labor market. Through the Copenhagen Process in 2002 EU Commission together with the EU Member States and other countries lays out the basis for co-operation in Vocational Education and Training, with 33 European countries involved. In December 2010 in the Copenhagen Process they participants agree on common objectives for the upcoming years with concrete measures at national and European level. This action is named Bruges Communique. There are some clarifications, standards and qualifications that participants must meet in order their qualities, skills, and competences be recognized. The quality of Vocational Education and Training is connected with the teachers and trainees capabilities and efforts. This is achieved through the collaboration of experts who comes from different countries offering their knowledge and professions. By doing this action the EU union provides EU citizens with more opportunities for work and better life conditions.

In 1995 Leonardo da Vinci program started simultaneously with Socrates which was a program for general and higher education. Leonardo Da Vinci program is part of the Vocational Education and Training sector with the difference that it provides the ability of co-operation across Europe. In this way it increases staff's expertise because they come more close to foreign country culture where they could travel to gain experience. In this program people have the ability to combine work and studies. Both programs represent a new framework for EU activities maintained by the other already existing programs such as Erasmus, Lingua, etc. The emphasis were extended from year 2000 to 2006 where were made some changes in both two programs (Socrates and Leonardo) according to administrative structures and not in to the content.

The last one program is Grundtvig which is practical learning for adults. This program focuses in another target group age of EU citizens which aim is to provide adults to improve their already establish knowledge and skills. By participating in this program they have the opportunity of personal and employment development. This it helps young people to learn from their experience. Experience sometimes is more valuable than the theory itself. This program goal is to increase the number of people in adult education and to improve their already working experience.

The EU union tries to implement an education program which is the Bologna Process whose aim is to develop a better higher qualified education system which would includes the same standards thought-out EU countries.

The Bologna Process is an educational system which aims to create a European Higher Education Area, in this process student has the ability to choose different courses and benefit from smooth recognition procedures. This is an attempt of the European Union in order to provide to its citizens educational degrees which have the same count ability with other international higher education degrees. In this way European higher education is more competitive and attractive for its European citizens and also, for other non European citizens.

The Bologna process was implemented in to 29 countries in 1999 and today 46 countries used the specific program. There are some criteria that should be met by each country. The first criterion is to being a signatory to the European Cultural Convention of the Council of Europe. The second one is the country must give a clear commitment to the objectives of the Bologna Process and presenting a reform program for the candidate country's higher education system.