We call for a more accessible and inclusive ESF+ programme

A recent survey, conducted by EAEA, reveals persisting challenges and issues faced by organisations participating in projects funded by the European Social Fund+ (ESF+). The valuable insights and recommendations collected in the survey aim to enhance the inclusivity and accessibility of the ESF+ programme, by putting the learners at the centre.

Download English version of EAEA’s statement on the ESF+ (pdf)
Download French version of EAEA’s statement (pdf)

The survey results underscore recurring concerns identified in earlier surveys and feedback collections. Smaller adult learning and education (ALE) organisations, in particular, continue to grapple with the burdensome application and reporting processes associated with ESF+-funded projects. Respondents emphasise that the administrative burden and mandatory co-financing rates remain prohibitively high, hindering the participation of smaller providers that work with learners and groups furthest removed from learning at the grassroots level.

“We need a fundamental reform of the ESF+ programme so that it becomes more inclusive and geared more towards the needs of learners,” explained an EAEA member which receives funding from the ESF+.

The ESF+ is a key funding instrument for ALE, but in need of improvement

The ESF+ serves as a pivotal funding instrument for ALE across Europe. ALE plays a crucial role in supporting the ESF+’s objectives by promoting transversal competences and life skills. These competences, in turn, enhance access to employment opportunities, creating a positive impact on the employment landscape. ALE also contributes to general wellbeing, at the workplace and beyond, and it promotes social inclusion, fostering links between individuals, communities, and the labour market.

Over the years, ESF+-funded projects in ALE have significantly contributed to regional development and social cohesion. These initiatives encompass a diverse range of learning programmes, ranging from basic education and inclusion measures for migrants to digital education and prison education.

We need a fundamental reform of the ESF+ programme so that it becomes more inclusive and geared more towards the needs of learners.” – an EAEA member

Nevertheless, a number of challenges make participation in ESF+ projects difficult. Challenges and issues identified by EAEA members include:

  • Complex application and reporting procedures;
  • Excessive influence of large organisations in the design and selection processes and limited access to funding for smaller providers;
  • Delayed approval deadlines;
  • Delayed payment of final instalments;
  • High administrative burden and costs;
  • Lack of financial sustainability within the programme and successor funding by national and regional authorities;
  • Insufficient funding for target groups and narrow definition of eligible beneficiaries;
  • Outsourcing of actual project activities, especially with very large providers, to small providers;
  • Transparency problems with audits and unjustified budget cuts;
  • Concerns about privacy and data protection of learners.

Include smaller organisations and put learners at the centre

EAEA calls for better inclusion of smaller organisations in the programme that puts the learners and their needs at the centre when designing and implementation actions. 

We recommend to:

  • Improve the accessibility of ALE organisations to ESF+ and prevent out-sourcing of the actual project implementation;
  • Give providers a say in the design of projects;
  • Support structural changes and regional development initiatives;
  • Ensure adequate funding and successor funding of actions;
  • Facilitate and simplify the administration and management of ESF+ projects;
  • Promote inclusion, diversity, and sustainability; 
  • Avoid too narrowly defined target groups;
  • Put learners at the centre and protect private data. 

Text: EAEA

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