We’ve covered the topic of education a couple of times on Debating Europe (see here and here, or read our snapshot report on it here). Recently, however, we had the opportunity to talk to Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, to put some of your comments to her directly. With the European economy in crisis and millions of unemployed across the continent, many of your comments were focused on how we can get better “value for money” out of education. But is this the right attitude to take?
First up, we had a question sent in by Tony on youth unemployment: “What can we do within the education system to ensure that those coming into the labour market have the best possible chance of competing for scarce jobs?“
Next, we had a comment from Peter suggesting that universities and schools in Europe should have much stronger links to business, helping young people find employment after leaving education: “The EU education system should look like a charter between our young generation with industry… The schooling system must be directly linked in a strong, mutually beneficial partnership with business and industry.“
Next we had a suggestion from Christos, arguing that: “To prepare young Europeans for an ultra competitive future, we need to streamline our systems and give equal opportunities to all youths on our continent [with an emphasis on] languages and opportunities to receive education for new industries like the green sustainable one.” Should governments provide preferential treatment to certain subjects (especially so-called “hard” subjects, such as engineering) over others (such as the humanities)?
Finally, we had a question from Elena (from AIESEC Ethiopia) on increasing mobility for teachers: “The Erasmus Program has already had a huge impact in European university education, but many universities in the EU still miss real international exposure due to the localization of the professors. I think EU leaders and academics should discuss new ways of internationalizing universities not just through student mobility but also by teacher mobility.“
We also had a chance to talk to Peter Sutherland, who (as Commisioner for Competition in the Delors Commission) was originally responsible for proposing the establishment of the ERASMUS programme. Last year, we looked at the idea that Erasmus could be expanded and, if possible, even made compulsory for young people. We had a comment from the European Students’ Union saying:
This could be a good idea, but if it were to be made compulsory, then Erasmus should be achievable for students’ of lower socio-economic background. Erasmus needs more money in order to allow everybody to actually go abroad – since the biggest problem is not about whether students are not willing to go. The main problems are related to not having proper support for students that come from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
We took this comment to Peter Sutherland, and here’s how he reacted:
Having been the person who proposed the Erasmus program, I feel immensely proud of what has been achieved by it… but it seems to me that one can draw a very different picture of the Erasmus program depending on where one goes. The take-up in the UK seems to be much lower, and it’s difficult to understand why. I don’t think it’s related to money, because the UK is one of the wealthier countries in the EU.
I think that Erasmus has been enormously beneficial to those who have gone on the course, not least in breaking down some of the stereotypes that have bedevilled European history in terms of the way people look at others on the same continent. I think it’s very important that Europe should have an active program, which this is, to throw light on the similarities and the great number of things we share in terms of values.
What do YOU think? Could greater student mobility across Europe help them develop the skills they need to enter the workplace? Should schools and universities have stronger ties to business so that recent graduates find it easier to gain employment? Do governments need to prioritise certain subjects (such as jobs in the “green economy”) over others? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.