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Youth on the Move - Moving Europe's Future?

bridges vol. 28, December 2010 / Letter from Brussels

By Florian Pecenka

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Florian Pecenka

One of the very pleasurable and rewarding tasks as Austrian Science Attaché in Brussels is educational outreach to the youngsters of the European Union, i.e., to introduce the workings of Brussels and its institutions to visiting school classes from Austria. During my first three months in Brussels, I have had the pleasure on two occasions of welcoming groups of students eager to learn more about the EU. Instead of using a PowerPoint presentation available for such occasions, I decided to use a more interactive format: having a conversation with the students. With the first class, a group of about 25 students from an Austrian school, we had a lively discussion about the European Qualification Framework and its national counterpart in Austria. With the second class, I raised the question of studying abroad and its benefits. When asked about plans to attend university after graduation from high school, almost all raised their hands. However, when asked about plans to study abroad, e.g., via an Erasmus semester, fewer hands were raised. This brought me to thinking about the new Youth on the Move initiative.

Youth on the Move is one of seven flagship initiatives, all of which are part of the EU 2020 strategy. The EU 2020 strategy succeeds the Lisbon strategy from 2000. This initiative is a result of the public consultation on learning mobility, conducted in 2009, and the Green Paper on promoting the learning mobility of young people, published in the same year by the Commission.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} What is Youth on the Move?

The initiative has to be seen as an overall framework that unifies not only all known mobility programs such as Erasmus, Grundtvig, and Comenius, but also marks the intersection between education and the labor market. Four goals should be met by 2020:

The first goal is to support the idea of a lifelong learning system with a series of political statements such as a Council Recommendation to encourage Member States to tackle the high level of early school leaving, and to proclaim 2011 as the European Year of Volunteering. Also in the pipeline is a Council Recommendation on the validation of nonformal and informal learning. The Commission is supporting efforts to promote apprenticeship-type vocational training and high quality traineeships as workplace learning experiences in order to build bridges to the labor market.

A second important goal is to raise the number of graduates from higher education or its equivalent. In 2020, EU Member States should have a quota of 40 percent of graduates within an age range, and Austria has set its goal of 38 percent to be met in 2020. When this goal was discussed in the education committee, Austria pushed to include "or equivalent" in the Council conclusions, knowing that Austria would not be able to achieve the 40 percent target exclusively with higher education graduates. The reason for this is a structural one: Many professions in Austria require vocational education training, but in other countries this educational training is offered by universities rather than by vocational training institutions. In this context, the European Commission will present a new communication in the fall of 2011 about modernizing Europe's higher education system.

The third goal of the initiative is fostering mobility in all its aspects. Late November marked the end of a public consultation about the future of Europe's mobility programs after 2013. The discussion was not only about the future of those programs and how they can be improved with regard to content and quality, but it also dealt with questions about financing. The challenge for next year will be to try to maintain or get more financing for education from the overall 2014-2020 budget framework. This won't be an easy task. The public got a foretaste in mid-November when UK Prime Minister Cameron categorically rejected a 6 percent increase in the EU 2011 budget, as demanded by the European Parliament, and urged the Council not to go beyond a 2.9 percent budget funding increase for next year. It seems that the Council will carry it's point against the European Parliament in this matter, as the latest compromise proposal from the Commission is to increase the budget by 2.91 percent in 2011.

Besides the discussion about the future and financing of the mobility programs, the initiative contains a guide to the rights of mobile students in the European Union. This guide is remarkable insofar as it contains all European Court rulings on student loans, student support, students' residences, and even Court rulings about access to higher education, such as the recent Bressol case.

The fourth goal is to connect education with employment. The Commission's goal is to help young graduates at the intersection of university and their first job. Therefore the Commission plans to create a European Vacancy Monitor to support young entrepreneurs and to involve more public employment services. In this context, the Commission plans "Your first EURES job," as a pilot project to help young people with finding a job in any of the EU-27 member states.

Pros and Cons of Youth on the Move

The Youth on the Move communication is one of the seven flagship initiatives and has a clear focus on young people. Its main points are mobility, entry into the labor market, and better training. Some critics have claimed that the communication is too strongly focused on young people and have questioned what is going to happen with older people, as Europe cannot count only on young people to achieve the knowledge society. Others have questioned where and if this flagship initiative fits with the Lifelong Learning Program. All mobility programs such as Erasmus, Grundtvig, Comenius, etc. are grouped under lifelong learning. Youth on the Move is seen as an overall program and should act as an umbrella, but to many Member States it is still unclear whether Youth on the Move is an "umbrella" or falls under the Lifelong Learning Program.

On the positive side, the Youth on the Move concentration on recognizing both formal and nonformal qualifications raises the possibility that the European Social Fund might be used to co-finance education and training projects, as well as the possibility of introducing a European study loan.

Youth on the Move gives an insight into the forthcoming communication about modernizing higher education within the European Union. One of its core messages will be the results of the feasibility studies U-mapping and U-multiranking. The aim of U-mapping is to classify Europe's many and diverse higher education institutions to make the system more transparent. The project has developed an appropriate set of dimensions, and indicators to measure them. U-multiranking aims to design and test a number of focused institutional rankings along a multi-dimensional classification system and a set of field-based rankings for different programs - grouping institutions with high levels of similarity in relevant profiles, as defined by the dimensions of the classification. These two projects are co-financed by the European Commission and are carried out concurrently as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) works on its AHELO project.

Quo Vadis?

Youth on the Move tries to tackle problems that might keep young people from studying abroad, such as social barriers, law barriers, and labor market barriers. It is a positive step for the initiative to address those problems, but one has to be aware that there is no exclusive European Union's competence in education or in social affairs. Member States thump on their exclusive competence as stipulated in article 149 and 150 of the Treaty of Functioning of the European Union. Thus, it is of crucial importance to assure a good and inclusive cooperation between the different committees concerned (education, youth, social affairs), the European Commission, and the Presidency from the very beginning in order to be successful in tackling those issues.

Youth on the Move also faces external barriers: One is a certain lack of trust between institutions of higher education, and another is the lack of readiness of many people, young as well as old, to be mobile in matters of learning or labor. Will Youth on the Move be moving Europe's future? Reducing the barriers is undoubtedly an important step in the right direction, but the road ahead will still be a long one.


Florian Pecenka is a member of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Science and Research. Since 2010 Pecenka has been working as attaché for scientific affairs at the Austrian Representation to the EU in Brussels. {/access}

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