For the seventh time already, the so-called Lifelong Learning Week took place in Brussels from 20 to 24 November 2017. The Lifelong Learning Platform, an umbrella organisation of over 40 organisations with more than 50,000 educational establishments all over Europe, promotes the exchange with policymakers within the scope of this week. The numerous events made it clear: In view of current technical and social developments, lifelong learning is more important than ever before!
A Eurostat survey in October 2017 found that not all the Member States attach the same importance to lifelong learning: on EU average, 10.8 % of Europeans stated that they participated in a vocational or further training programme during the last four weeks; in Austria, the figure was 14.9 %. The Scandinavian countries lead the field: in Sweden, Denmark and Finland about 30 % of adults were taking part in a lifelong educational measure.
In view of the technological change and continuous new challenges in the labour markets, the tenor at the numerous events was clear: the Member States and the EU have to get their vocational and further training systems ready for the digital age, in particular with regard to adult education.
One of the discussion events showed that the benefit of lifelong learning goes beyond the sheer employability in the labour market of the digital age. Informal learning would enable adults to meet new people; it would raise their self-confidence and would in particular in case of educationally disadvantaged people arouse interest in further learning. This would also result in better health, more voluntary engagement and stronger social cohesion. A recent case study in the English town of Rochdale – a town, which was particularly affected by the decline of the industry – has shown that for each Pound Sterling, the municipality had invested in lifelong learning programmes for people with no or hardly any qualifications, it had been able to save ca. 20 Pound Sterling in healthcare or welfare spending in the mid-term.
Dana Bachmann, the Head of Unit for Adult Learning in the European Commission, pointed out that in particular adult education was far too often left to the market forces. This would result in the fact that especially those would not benefit, who would need it most. In this context, she referred to the Upskilling Pathways Initiative by the Commission, which is supposed to help adults with no or few qualifications to obtain a minimum level of basic skills.
Thiébaut Weber, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, demanded that the EU, within the scope of its next Multiannual Financial Framework, would invest more money in educational measures, in particular for people with only a basic level of skills. After the Proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights in Gothenburg, words had now to be followed by concrete action. Investments in lifelong learning would be an opportunity to strengthen the EU's social dimension.
Within the scope of the European Social Summit in Gothenburg, the Commission also presented its plans for establishing a European Education Area by 2025, whose objective it would be to further develop education mobility in the EU. Since the foundation of the Erasmus Programme 30 years ago, 9 million people in the EU studied or completed an apprenticeship in another country. In future, even more people shall take part in this and in the planned European Solidarity Corps. A new “Sorbonne Process” shall prepare the mutual recognition of school and university qualifications and raise the share of lifelong learning to 25 % by 2025.
The legal competence for education and culture continues to lie first and foremost with the Member States at national, regional and local level. However, for many years the EU has been playing an important supplementary role in this area - in particular to promote cross-border mobility and to initiate new projects. Due to the technological change, the AK is of the firm belief that one has to invest in particular in lifelong education programmes to ensure that all age groups benefit from the technological progress and that nobody is left behind!