Politicians across the EU recognise that education is essential for continued growth and prosperity in today’s knowledge society.
The EU’s role in Education
The role of the EU in education and training is to help to improve the quality of education systems across the EU through:
- Supporting policy co-operation between EU Member States.
- Providing EU funding for education and training activities, for example, under the Erasmus student mobility programme
At the same time, EU Member States maintain full responsibility for the content of their curricula, the organisation of their education and vocational training systems and their cultural and linguistic diversity.
Policy co-operation involves EU Member States sharing good ideas to address common challenges across all sectors of education – from early childhood to higher and adult education.
Policy co-operation happens at many levels:
- Education Ministers meet three times each year to agree on policies to improve education and training at Education Council.
- Experts from Member States – including civil servants, academics and national agency representatives – meet to share their experiences of good practice.
Areas to be examined are drawn from the common priorities of Member States and re-evaluated every 2-3 years.
The EU’s Erasmus+ 2014-2020 programme provides funding for a range of international education and training projects, including student and staff exchanges, job shadowing, teaching assignments, and strategic partnerships between organisations. Over this period, almost €15 billion has been earmarked to enable people at all stages of life to take part in exciting learning opportunities across Europe. Irish students at all levels of education can access study and work placements in other EU countries, funded by Erasmus+ through the Higher Education Authority (for higher education) and Léargas (for school, vocational and adult education) – agencies of the Department.
The European Social Fund (ESF) is one of the European Structural and Investment Funds. The ESF focusses investment on activation of the unemployed, improving social and labour market inclusion, enhancing education attainment and tackling youth unemployment. The Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning (PEIL) is the ESF Operational Programme in Ireland for the 2014-2020 period. In Ireland, the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) is delivered through the PEIL and is also supported by the Government of Ireland and the ESF. The PEIL involves a total investment of €1.157 billion; €544.5 million each from the Government of Ireland and the ESF and a special allocation of €68 million from the YEI.
The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) assists EU Member States to provide active labour market supports to workers made redundant (or self-employed people whose activity ceases) as a result of major structural changes in world trade due to globalisation or global financial and economic crisis. To date, Ireland has had 10 EGF programmes, which have assisted over 10,000 former workers. Over 400 young people not in employment, education or training have also been assisted.
The role of the Department of Education
The Department engages with international partners in education and training policy, including the EU, Council of Europe, OECD and UNESCO. The Department makes sure that Ireland's best interests are highlighted at EU level so that:
- Ireland gets the greatest benefit possible from EU funding
- Irish policies are informed by EU best practice.
In practice, on an ongoing basis:
- The Minister for Education attends the Education Council to discuss policy with his EU counterparts
- Through the Higher Education Authority and Léargas - agencies of the Department - Irish students can access study and work placements in other EU countries and Irish organisations can work collaboratively with other organisations in Europe, funded by Erasmus+.
Also, the Department must report to the Oireachtas on major developments in education at EU level every six months.