Interview with the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, Mrs Androulla Vassiliou
With the closure of Youth in Action approaching and the European Commission adopting the brand new programme “Erasmus for All” that will be integrating the EU's current funding programmes for education, training, youth and international cooperation, the youth world seems to be alarmed at the announcement that 60% percent of the total budget will be provided for formal education structures. Concerns have been raised as to the future and role of NFE and youth initiatives, and thus YNGOs demand a strong independent programme for youth. The much anticipated “Erasmus for All” is expected to commence in 2014-2020, and as details on how it will be working have not been available yet, we felt the strong need to get the insider’s information on how the scheme is progressing. Therefore, we are at the much advantaged position to enjoy the kind contribution and input from the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Mrs Androulla Vassiliou, and try and shed some light on the Erasmus mystery.
1) Dear Mrs Vassiliou, what is the philosophy and main principles behind the new programme “Erasmus for all”?
"Erasmus for All" is the European Commission's proposed new funding programme for education, training, youth and sport. It will support the 'Europe 2020' strategy for growth and jobs and is a direct response to the demands of a globalised world. It responds to Europe's need to modernise its education and training systems, to improve its people's skills and employability, and to offer new opportunities to its young people.
Investing in education and training is the key to unlocking people's potential, regardless of their age or background. It helps them to further their personal development and to gain new skills and competences including adaptability, team-work and the ability to speak foreign languages. Increased investment will also help us to improve cooperation between education institutions, and between education and business, as well as enabling us to better support policy reform initiatives, such as improving levels of literacy and reducing early school leaving.
2) What are the main differences compared to the current programmes?
Creating a single programme will result in simpler rules and procedures as well as avoiding fragmentation and duplication. The Commission proposal also seeks for a better balance between harmonisation and flexibility.
The "Erasmus for all" programme integrates the EU's current funding programmes for education, training, youth and international cooperation. It focuses on three types of key actions, namely: the transnational and international learning mobility of students, young people, teachers and staff; cooperation to boost innovation and good practices between education institutions, as well as cooperation with organisations in the youth field; support for policy reforms in the Member States and capacity building in non-EU countries, with a particular focus on neighbouring countries and the international policy dialogue.
The programme will also support a new loan guarantee scheme to make it easier for Master's degree students to finance their studies in another country and to acquire the advanced skills needed for knowledge intensive jobs. In management terms, the main innovations concern a simplification through a wider use of lump sums.
3) With 60% of total budget for formal education structures, some concerns are raised regarding the future and role of Non-Formal Education (NFE) initiatives. What changes should NFE activists and Youth NGOs expect to experience?
Since you refer to budgetary issues, I would first like to underline that the Non-Formal Education sector will also benefit from the global increase in resources that the Commission has proposed for Erasmus for All, compared to the funding currently allocated to this area.
Second, I must stress that the Commission proposal maintains the main successful initiatives currently supported by Youth in Action in the non-formal learning sector, be they targeting young people, through youth exchanges or the European Voluntary Service, or youth workers and youth organisations which benefit from funding for training and networking opportunities.
Moreover, Erasmus for All will also support more innovative measures, such as partnerships with youth NGOs. Whatever their format, our approach is intended to support the EU Youth Strategy.
4) How do you see the role of NFE and youth initiatives in Europe of the future?
For me this role has two dimensions and translates our ambition to invest and empower young people in Europe:
- non-formal education has of course a "learning" dimension and we know that Europe must invest more in education and training. We do not learn only at schools and universities. NFE complements in a very effective way the skills and competences acquired through formal learning. Sometimes it even sustitutes formal learning and acts as a "second chance", notably for youngsters with fewer opportunities. To take just one example, volunteering for a year abroad is an invaluable learning experience.
- but at the same time non-formal education activities empower young people, give them opportunities to participate in society, to give their opinion in matters that affect them: this is the place where the structured dialogue with young people takes place, including at European level.
5) How do you think “Erasmus for All” will address the problems and challenges that young people in the 21st century in Europe are facing?
Let's face it: for the coming years at least, we can unfortunately expect that unemployment will remain the main challenge for young people. Modernising our education and training systems is key to equipping young people, as well as adults, with the skills and competences needed for the jobs of the 21st century. This is why education plays such a crucial role in the Europe 2020 strategy.
There are other issues, which the Youth Strategy has identified; for example, the role of European youth in the world, the participation of youth in democratic life, the social inclusion of young people...
These strategies, to which the Member States of the Union have agreed, are at the root of our proposal for Erasmus for All, which will concretely support all of our policy objectives regarding youth.
Interview by Eleni Ioannou, Editor in Chief