We sometimes forget the role of politicians and policy makers as major stakeholders in education and training. Yet decisions, particularly at the level of structures, qualifications and funding have a major say in how education and training is provided in different regions and countries.
Despite the limitations on their power in the filed of education and training, in the last two decades the European Commission has come to play a major role through their sponsorship of various funding programmes. Probably the most important has been the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP), sponsored by the DG Education and Culture. The LLP, which ended earlier this year has funded a series of sub programmes for projects and exchanges for higher education, vocational education and training , schools and adult education, with a transversal programme around policy, language learning and the use of technology for learning. And although sometimes seemingly over bureaucratic, in general the programme has worked well.
The major thrust of the LLP, as the name suggests, has been to promote innovation and social inclusion for lifelong learning. At the same time exchange programmes like Erasmus and language projects and the development of a European educational credit programme have promoted mobility and discourse between institutions, teachers and learners.
Now the EU has adopted a new programme, called Erasmus Plus. Although claiming to be a continuation and further development to the previous programmes, Erasmus Plus is very different. Apart from lip service, at first glance (of the over 200 page guidelines) there appears little focus on lifelong learning. With limited exceptions, innovation and the exchange of best practice also no longer appear to be a priority for Europe. Instead the major focus is on individual exchanges visits between institutions and institutions and companies. It is not difficult to guess why. The European Union is panicking at the level of youth unemployment and the potential instability this may cause. And to ameliorate the impact of youth unemployment they are diverting resources into producing temporary education and training opportunities. Spending on education and training is not a bad answer to the economic crisis. Indeed it is noticeable that whilst the UK and many other European countries have been cutting back on education spending and provision, Germany has been increasing the number of university places as a reaction to the crisis. However I cannot help thinking that the new Erasmus Plus programme is a short term answer and that moving away from proper funding of innovation and the development of new practices and pedagogies of teaching and learning represents a retrograde move. Of course, the LLP and successor programmes were only ever supposed to be additional and transnational programmes, on top of national and regional initiatives and funding. But the reality has been that in the face to such severe cutbacks in expenditure of educational research and development they have become an important source of funding for educational innovation in many European States.
It is possible that I am not properly understanding the new programme. I hope so. But at least on first reading, it seems to be a reaction to many different and countering lobby groups, with concessions made to the strongest of the lobbies. The only hope is that as it is put into action, some coherence and sense may emerge.