In December 2016, the European Commission announced a Communication on Modernising Education, detailing specific initiatives on school and higher education; now it has upped the ante. However, a closer look reveals that the so-called “Youth Initiative” is nothing more than a collection of ideas with few concrete intentions.
The overriding objective of these initiatives is to support Member States in respect of providing high-quality and inclusive education for all young people. The Commission proposes three concrete measures: improving the quality and inclusivity of schools, supporting outstanding teachers and school administrations as well as improving the governance of school education systems. However, due to the fact that education comes under the competence of the Member States, measures confine themselves to more symbolic actions: envisaged are school partnerships (for promoting competence development and intercultural learning), mobility and eTwinning projects (within the scope of Erasmus+) and exchange of experiences for teachers and headteachers. In short: concerning the school sector, the European Commission to a large extent limits itself to its core competence: promoting mobility.
However: It should be welcomed that the Commission not only addresses early childhood education but includes this phase education phase into its considerations.
The Agenda for higher education contains similar proposals to the school sector: an online platform shall link universities and make resources for lectures available; apart from that the conveyance of digital skills shall be improved. In respect of the higher education sector, the proposal by the Commission puts particular value on the exploitability of degrees: here, education is first and foremost regarded as a prerequisite for getting a job; thus, the curricula should be examined with regard to their practical applicability. A recommendation on Tracking Graduates shall collect relevant data, e.g. how long it takes university graduates to find a job after graduation. Apart from that, the related Council Recommendation also provides for covering vocational education and training (VET): this Council Recommendation shall be an incentive for the authorities in the Member States to develop the improve the data situation on the career path and further education of graduates. Due to its well-developed vocational school system as well as dual education (“apprenticeships”), this Recommendation is of particular interest for Austria.
In Austria the higher education sector touches on challenges, which are most urgent from the AK's point of view, i.e. on the one hand, the system is socially highly selective and underfunded on the other, including the scholarship programs for the financially disadvantaged. The financial underfunding of universities also led to the implementation of access restrictions, which once again reduced the number students from the working class at Austrian universities. Expensive preparatory courses for entrance exams are a big business today; however, not everybody can afford them.
The AK agrees with the Commission proposal that “schools would be able to play a stronger role also with regard to promoting social fairness”. Unfortunately, once again a clear strategy to reduce this education gap in Europe is missing – not only in case of different social backgrounds but also in respect of gender or migrants.