Youth unemployment tops ministers’ agenda
By Sophie Petitjean | Thursday 09 February 2012
As follow-up to the commitments made by the heads of state and government at the informal EU summit, on 30 January, the 27 education ministers will examine, on 10 February, ways of combating youth unemployment. The Education, Youth and Sport Council will address only one agenda item, how education and training can help lessen the impact of the crisis.
The meeting will begin with adoption of the 2012 joint report of the Council and Commission on implementation of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training. This document, ‘Education and training in a smart, sustainable and inclusive Europe’, reports limited progress from 2009 to 2011 on the strategic framework’s five key priorities: increasing early education/child care facilities, improving the acquisition of basic skills, reducing early school leaving, increasing the number of higher education graduates and encouraging lifelong learning. The report states clearly that “if current trends continue,” the EU may not reach its targets.
The report establishes that member states are advancing very slowly towards the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy target of bringing the early school leaving rate to below 10%. In 2010, the average rate of early school leaving was 14.1% in the EU, down slightly from 14.4% the previous year. There are sizeable differences from one state to the next. Malta (rate practically unchanged at 36.9%), Portugal (28.7%) and Spain (28.4%) have the highest rates despite an improvement in the latter two countries over 2009 (31.2% in both cases). The states with the lowest rates are Slovakia (4.7%), the Czech Republic (4.9%) and Slovenia (5%).
The joint report also shows that the EU is not close to reaching its target on higher education, namely to increase the share of 30-34-year-olds with a tertiary degree from 33.6 % (current level) to at least 40% in the Union. The rate is less than 25% in seven member states (Romania, Malta, Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Portugal). Ireland (49.9%), Denmark (47%) and Luxembourg (46.1%) have the highest rates.
On the more positive side, the percentage of low achievers in reading, mathematics and science, which dropped to 20% in 2009 from 24.1% in 2006, suggests that the EU should be able to reach its target of bringing this rate below 15% by the end of the decade.
In conclusion, the report invites member states to follow the recommendations made by the Commission in the context of the ‘European semester’ and proposes a new set of key priorities for 2012-2014, in particular to modernise education systems, develop teachers’ competences and combat early school leaving.
The ministers will then hold a policy debate on the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy. Based on a working paper drafted by the Danish EU Presidency, they will be asked to identify a single initiative to be taken in 2012, at national or European level, that could help reduce youth unemployment and consequently mitigate the social impact of the crisis for young people. The Presidency will forward to the spring European Council – scheduled for 1-2 March – a summary of the debate, which will constitute the Council’s contribution to this meeting for the education sector.
The ministers will hold an initial exchange of views on the proposal for the Erasmus for All programme, set to become operational in 2014. The Council’s working group on education and members of the European Parliament have already reacted positively to the proprosal.
The 27 ministers will end their meeting with a lunchtime discussion on the transition from training to the world of work.
“If current trends continue,” the EU may not reach its targets