May 3, 2015
By 2020 Europe aspires to have a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy, to which education is the key component. So far Europe aims to reach this goal by creating partnerships, domestically and internationally, supporting student mobility and finally by creating a compatible and comparable higher education system. In addition much is being done to create the right mindset and skills to foster European entrepreneurial culture. In achieving this goal EU has allocated 14.7 billion Euro to the Erasmus+ program for the time frame 2014 to 2020.
The present economic crises is challenging education and training systems of Europe in two major ways. First is the matter of investing in growth policies, a vital part of which are the education and training policies, with the pressing issue of consolidating public finance. Additionally, youth unemployment has reached 23.2% and the EU structures cannot tolerate it to continue. In the economic sense, education and training exert influence on innovation and productivity which is why it is a source of growth and contributes to the employment of population, including youth. Half of member states have stopped investing in education and training while the current crises urges them to strengthen the results of education and training systems as well as intervene by making the systems relevant to labor market needs. Recent studies which evaluate the impact of investment in education are arguing for a better match between education and world of work. In changing policies the responsibility lies with national governments however the EU structures can offer significant support.
The number of students aiming for degrees is increasing. Around 60% of students in countries of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are expected to begin higher education during their life. It is also expected that demand for higher education will increase from 97 million students in 2000 to over 262 million in 2025. The same trend of increase in the demand for education is expected to heat Europe in the years to come. By 2020 EU aspires to improve on employment, innovation, education social inclusion and climate. It is expected that by the deadline school drop out to fall below 10 % and 40% of 30-34 year olds to complete third level of education. Member states underwent major changes such as the Bologna Process in order to transform EU in a knowledge economy and an international competitor. The recent developments have pushed education towards economization. Experts are voicing their worries about the economization of education and not providing students with the skills of the 21st century.
The first issue is the fact that education has been tightly linked to the economy. Viewing education in terms of economic gains is a very biased and dangerous perspective. As a result of this tendency courses and study programs are being designed to fit the needs of the market, and not to promote knowledge for the interest of the individual and academic progress. If this trend continuous it should be of no surprise when university studies become nothing more than vocational training to meet the needs of prospective employers. In addition, the new century may mark the time when subjects such as history, archaeology and philosophy will be sacrificed for the sake of law, economics and business studies. However, it is postulated that European education could improve if more will be done to promote cultural exchange, knowledge dissemination, better allocation of intellectual resources, and valuing the intellectual heritage of Europe.
The main mission of higher education is to enable people to learn. In this rapidly changes world, European graduates need a type of education that allows them to be active, committed, thinking, economic factors and global citizens. The new technologies offer many ways to make learning effective, engaging and inclusive. This form of learning can easily be made creative and innovative, but Europe is failing in using new technologies to meet the needs of learners. The limiting factor in using technology is the lack of digital competencies. Many experts are arguing that the “right” skills for the 21 century are the digital competencies. It is a reason to worry that only 30-35 % of students in EU countries are digitally confident.
Investment in education presents a challenging task for states in the ongoing economic crisis. On the other side, investing in education is key to growth and employment. It is generally accepted that a skilled and educated workforce leads to productivity gains, wealth and innovation. Consequently, investment in education equals to investment in the future, and it should continue.
It is evident that when economic crisis hit, political discussions tend to focus in education. Experts agree on the fact that education and especially higher education, is the factor that fights the crisis, and manages to create a stabile and competitive economy that will overcome future crisis. Therefore, most would agree that investing public funds in education is reasonable. It is unfortunate that when the crisis hits, education funds are cut drastically, which may well be due to the fact that education is the highest public expenditure and the idea that education is a luxury that society cannot afford during economic adversity.