BRUSSELS- In May, the European Commission published country-specific recommendations as part of the European Semester 2015. The country-specific recommendations this year extensively featured recommendations on education. The country-specific recommendations were based on the European Union’s Annual Growth Survey and a series of country reports. The European Students’ Union (ESU) would like to take this opportunity to address several themes regarding education that were repeated in the recommendations.
Nearly all countries in the European Union received some sort of comment regarding education in the country-specific recommendations. Thirteen clear recommendations addressing education were included. Common themes included the so-called labour market mismatch, as well as the need for improved inclusion of underrepresented groups and increased investment in education.
The repeatedly mentioned so-called mismatch on the labour market is an issue that has been heavily debated, with many, including ESU, arguing that it is neither possible nor reasonable to predict the needs of labour market in relation to higher education. Often much more careful analysis is required before demanding that higher education institutions change their approach to what and how they teach. The mismatch can often be due to other issues in the labour market or a perception based on the recruitment desires of industries with strong lobbies. Education serves multiple purposes and is not the silver bullet for all problems of the labour market. Regardless of their discipline, students must be equipped with transversal skills, such as critical and creative thinking and democratic citizenship.
ESU was happy to note that the social aspects of education were addressed several times in both the comments and recommendations. Specifically, the situation of Roma youth was highlighted towards several countries, which is extremely important. Education is the best tool Europe has to fight the structural exclusion of Roma people and their exclusion must be directly addressed through a comprehensive approach, for instance through national strategies for the social dimension, which have proved successful in the past.
Learning and teaching has started to become more visible, although it is only hinted at in the country-specific recommendations. This can been seen through the recommendation to Slovakia about ensuring that education and training meet the needs of the individual learner.
ESU would encourage that more countries, especially those who repeatedly receive recommendations or comments to address their underrepresented groups, focus not only on access but more on learning and teaching to ensure the success of excluded groups. If the European Union is serious about inclusion, encouraging countries to invest in student-centred approaches is key. A learning outcomes-based student-centred approach is also a way to improve the often mentioned skills-shortage.
An important aspect of the country-specific recommendations has also been the frequent encouragement for increased investment in education. ESU would like to emphasise that the public responsibility for education must be taken seriously, and reversing the trend of cuts is essential for the future of Europe. For too long, education has been seen as an expense to be cut, and the recommendations encouraging public funding are a welcomed addition in encouraging member states to change their attitudes to education.