European Commission’s stocktaking report on Upskilling Pathways: EAEA’s reaction and further recommendations

Upskilling Pathways Recommendation was adopted in 2016 with the aim to support adults with low levels of skills and enhance their literacy, numeracy and digital skills. In February this year the European Commission (EC) published a stocktaking report on the implementation of the initiative in the Member States. EAEA has also collected feedback from its members on the implementation of this strategy in 2018, and we will compare the feedback to the findings of the EC’s report.

The EC report found that quite a number of countries are setting in motion new ambitious agendas to support the upskilling and reskilling of the adult population. EAEA’s members also agreed that Upskilling Pathways has raised awareness for adult education and that the recommendation has already had an impact in quite a few Member States. Nevertheless, the EC report confirms EAEA’s finding that the implementation presents a very diverse picture. The feedback from EAEA’s members is based on our country reports.

Read the full text on the comparison of EC’s stocktaking report and EAEA’s findings and recommendations (pdf)

Summary of EAEA’s recommendations in relation to the findings of the EC stocktaking report:

1. Strengthen the governance of adult education and basic skills in the framework of lifelong learning. A comprehensive lifelong learning strategy will help link learning pathways. Within the Upskilling Pathways strategy, the responsibilities need to be clearly spelt out.

The EC stocktaking report found that only a small number of Member States refer to groups being established for the coordination. Others add the task to the coordination work being done by National Coordinators for adult learning or wider existing structures.

2. Reinforce cooperation between ministries, sectors and institutions of different backgrounds. A good strategy needs good cooperation between different sectors and institutions. Upskilling Pathways can be a real incentive to start building bridges.

EAEA members reported that Upskilling Pathways has led to more and better cooperation between the Ministries of Education and Labour. Nevertheless, the EC report states that many small-scale, unrelated initiatives (mainly European Social Fund projects) exist without evidence of mechanisms for coordination between providers and other stakeholders.

3. Cooperate with civil society and providers. In order to implement the strategy effectively, providers and civil society organizations are key stakeholders.

The EC stocktaking report mentions that a multitude of actors are involved in the delivery of the Upskilling Pathways steps. However, it is not clear from the report to what extent the involvement and cooperation with civil society and providers is being ensured.

4. Analyse and remove barriers. Barriers that hinder people from participating need to be examined in depth. EAEA urges Member States to analyze their legal and financial frameworks in terms of promoting or hindering the participation of disadvantaged groups.

According to EC’s report, implementation of the recommendation relies in most countries on a set of parallel measures, targeted towards specific sub-groups or types of skills. Education and training provisions tend to be generic offers rather than tailored to specific learning needs. Also, many initiatives refer to skills-profiling and only in few cases appear to be used to identify gaps in basic skills or barriers for disadvantaged groups.

5. Link adult education and basic skills to existing strategies. In many countries social inclusion strategies for disadvantaged groups do not take adult education into account. By integrating adult education into existing initiatives and policies, these will be improved and learning will become mainstreamed.

Many Upskilling Pathways implementation measures are closely related to the establishment of validation arrangements. However, while most Member States are mapping formal qualifications, there is generally no reference to a qualification level in relation to basic skills. Further the EC report wonders whether countries link measures to other programs or courses in order to enable learner progression.

6. Prioritize and invest in adult learning and basic skills. Public investment in adult education and learning and basic skills is crucial for outreach, making the system work and enabling the participation of those who need it most.

In EC’s report, almost all countries indicated that much of the activity to support low-skilled adults is co-funded through the European Social Fund (ESF). Most of this EU funding is invested in active labour market policies and while it is being used in part to support low-skilled adults, it cannot be seen as dedicated funding for this group. In fact, much of it supports unemployed people in general, and increasingly those in employment whose jobs are threatened. Also, securing funding for the upskilling of people in employment remains the greatest challenge.

7. Fund and support learning in communities. Communities are essential when wanting to support increased participation of potential learners who have had the least opportunities in the past. Adult learning providers, including the voluntary and community sectors, need more investment to support and funding.

The EC report does not explicitly present support to learning in communities but gives examples from Member States on how community centers play an important role in the delivery of the skills assessment, learning opportunities or guidance services.

8. Strengthen non-formal structures. Better infrastructure for non-formal adult education through legislation, institutional development and continuous financing is needed.

ESF and Erasmus+ are playing a key role in the implementation of the Upskilling Pathways Recommendation. However, this does not support the much needed long-term systemic approach to non-formal adult education, as the majority of implementation measures and timelines are tied in with ESF and Erasmus+ planning periods.

Based on the feedback of its members and the EC report, EAEA sees a number of positive developments in Europe, but would like to see more and stronger efforts by the Member States. Europe needs effective strategies for adult learning with appropriate funding, governance, civil society participation and partnerships.

More information:
Gina Ebner
EAEA Secretary-General
tel: +32 2 893 25 24

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