Education for economic growth and inclusion

Each country is responsible for its education and training system. However, the EU plays a key supporting role. It encourages cooperation and the exchange of good practice between member states, and supplements national efforts and reforms.

Key figures

 According to the OECD:

  • 20% of the EU workforce displays a serious lack of skills, including low literacy and low numeracy skills
  • 25% of European adults cannot make effective use of information and communication technologies

Why do we need it?

Making sure that EU citizens have the necessary skills to succeed in the labour market is key to improving economic growth and employment in the EU. To help to achieve this, the EU's strategy for growth (Europe 2020) set two targets for member states to achieve by 2020 in the field of education:

  • reduce early school leaving below 10%
  • ensure that at least 40% of 30-34 year olds have completed tertiary level education

Education and training can also help to prevent poverty and social exclusion, ensure human and civic values are maintained and help tackle all forms of discrimination. In response to terrorist attacks in Paris and Denmark, EU ministers agreed on the need to:

  • ensure children and young people acquire civic and intercultural competences
  • enhance critical thinking and media literacy
  • foster education of disadvantaged children
  • promote intercultural dialogue

In the Council

Defining the objectives of European cooperation

In 2009, the Council adopted a strategic framework for education and training (ET 2020). Closely linked to the goals set in the Europe 2020 strategy, it defines the objectives and organisation of European cooperation in the fields of education and training until 2020. 

In November 2015, the Council and European Commission adopted a report on the progress made towards these objectives. This report also set the work programme for the next 5 years, focusing on six priority areas:

  • developing relevant and high quality skills through life long learning
  • promoting inclusive education, equality and non-discrimination
  • more open and innovative education, fully embracing the digital era
  • strengthening support for teachers and trainers
  • improving the transparency of skills and qualifications, to facilitate further learning and mobility
  • promoting sustainable investment, quality and efficiency in education and training systems

Current areas of activity

1. Developing relevant and high quality skills 

How the European Semester works

During the Semester EU countries coordinate their budgetary, economic, employment and other policies

In November 2015, the European Commission presented to the Council the 2016 annual growth survey, which kicks off the European semester for the year 2016. The survey mentioned the importance of equipping people with the relevant skills to drive innovation and competitiveness and prevent unemployment. It called for performance-oriented reforms of education and training systems.

The Dutch presidency will also focus on connecting education, the labour market and society. It has planned thematic discussions and a ministerial debate in anticipation of the European Commission's forthcoming new skills agenda for Europe.

2. Promoting inclusive education

In November 2015, the Council adopted conclusions on reducing early school leaving. It highlighted the role played by:

  • situations of disadvantage, including children with migrant background, Roma children and children with special needs
  • the design of education systems and factors such as violence and bullying, teaching methods or curricula

Ministers called to ensure that every young person has equal access to quality education. They invited the member states and the Commission to use the funding opportunities offered by EU instruments to support measures aimed at reducing early school leaving.

Also in November 2015, the Council discussed strategies to integrate people with a migrant background. In general, ministers consider it essential to focus on:

  • ensuring effective learning of the language of the host country
  • the speedy and effective assessment and validation of prior qualifications
  • systematically promoting common European values
  • preparing teachers, students and parents for more diversity in schools

The Dutch presidency will also focus on promoting citizenship and fundamental values through education, following-up on the Paris declaration (March 2015).