Learning as a human right
Opened by MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen, Chair of the European Parliament Lifelong Learning Interest Group, its 2nd meeting 29 November was focusing on Investment in Learning Mobility.
Kicking off the meeting, Mrs Pietikäinen, highlighted that education and learning cannot be reduced to specific skills or geographic boundaries but have to be acknowledged as a human right. She pointed out that education can support the development of an eco-social civilisation in which learners thrive while respecting the environment and adapting to different challenges. She moved on to state that the European Education Area (EEA) must better integrate teaching and learning in order to ensure that all developments in the sector, by all the Member States, mutually support and benefit each other.
MEP Pietikäinen then pointed out how mobility is crucial in such a scenario and has to be furthered in order to ensure learning mobility for staff and individual learners. However, she concluded that for mobility to be a reality, funding needs to be available for certifications, recognition, validation and all ancillary services. Participants in the meeting followed up with a short exchange and agreed that mobility can also contribute to building democratic societies, effectively reverting current extremist trends.
“Members states think that education and research and the human capital is owned by the member state, which is untrue. We are all Europeans, and we’re all human individuals with human rights. And one of the human rights is learning.”
Each Learning Experience is a Victory
Ute Haller-Block, Head of Unit Erasmus+ Coordination DG EAC, pointed out the complexity of the topic, underlining the importance to convince individuals to make use of learning mobilities, especially considering the limited financial resources available. She agreed with MEP Pietikäinen on the significance of learning mobilities, but emphasised that recognition of mobility as a learning experience in itself poses already a great victory. Speaking on behalf of a DG, she also highlighted how mobility remains a high priority on the EU political agenda, not only as an element of the EEA but also financed through Erasmus+. Ms Haller-Block explained how participating in Erasmus+ has impacts on Member State’s policies, considering they must be members of the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education by complying with the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS).
She explained how the demand for mobilities remained high post-pandemic, having first decreased by 60% in 2020 but having since returned to pre-crisis levels. EU initiatives such as the European Universities, the Teacher Academies, and the Centres for VET Excellence can all contribute to facilitating a more organic implementation of mobilities. Similarly, the Learning Mobility Framework, and its upcoming 2023 update, or the Youth on the Move initiative, greatly contribute to mobility. However, with new challenges continuously affecting the learning sector, most recently mainly regarding the twin transition, the effort to include marginalised target groups must be increased to allow for their learning mobility to be a reality. Ms Haller-Block concluded by underlining the opportunity to utilise the European Year of Skills to foster learning mobility since multiple EU DGs (e.g. GROW, EMPL, EAC) will be collaborating and will provide respective weight and momentum to 2023.
“We have to live with the fact that school systems are very different between member states. We try to find common ground, but it’s difficult to harmonize every system. But we can improve the relations between different countries.”
Dismantling Barriers to Mobility
During the panel discussion, Wim Gabriels, Director ESN, recalled that less than half of Europeans surveyed were aware of the different Erasmus+ opportunities, while countries are still a long way to reaching the 2020 mobility targets of at least 14.5% of young learners engaged in mobilities. The programme is in need of new targets, while the content of learning provided by mobilities should be adapted to reasons why learners chose to go on mobility, which range from the desire to explore new ways of learning to intercultural exchanges to the independent living experience. He insisted on the myriad of barriers to asking the programme, many of which can be classified as institutional, environmental or attitudinal. The first includes the lack of transparent information on what is financed during the mobility, as well as the initial pre-funding required to launch mobility. The second includes barriers such as learners’ lower-income background or their belonging to a rural area, which could influence their access to information on the programme. The third refers to internalised barriers that impact a learner’s perception of being able to go on an exchange. Given the impact that mobility has on building multi-layered identities and helping learners better relate to the world around them, he called for more action on dismantling the barriers to the programme.
“Making mobility a reality for all. Only 50 percent of the population knows that Erasmus exists. People want to go on exchange to experience different ways of learning. The motivations to go abroad should influence how the program is structured.”
Trust and Acknowledgement
Elisa Briga, Interim Secretary General EFIL, reminded participants that the automatic recognition of learning periods abroad is the least developed element of the EEA and that – a study conducted by EFIL between 2020-2021 revealed that 60,000 pupils have been mobile annually, with a mere 21% being intra-EU mobilities. However, the research also revealed a lack of recognising of learning outcomes and a surplus of non-profit providers cooperating insufficiently, leading to a significant percentage of for-profit organisations facilitating mobilities.
Against this background, EFIL is urging for increased efforts to foster trust and transparency across education systems, as well as the valuation of the diversity of education cultures and contexts.
Avoidance of Stigmatisation
Christin Cieslak, Head of Programmes & Stakeholder Engagement EAEA, discussed the apparent equal access to education for all, considering how in the past decades the terminology in EU-funded programmes has changed to pre-define what low-skilled learners are and which conditions would be applicable to them. Accessibility is limited due to such stigmatisation. At the same time, any funding available for individuals should also be extended to supporting the structures around the individuals, namely, amongst others, the learning providers. For mobility to truly be mainstreamed, Erasmus+ must address its own structural issues and the structural issues of organisations that provide learning.
“The accessibility of adult learner mobility in Erasmus+ is hampered by structural and financial limitations in the programme, but also in the ALE sector itself.”
Learning Mobility as a foreign policy tool
João Pinto, University of Minho, then moved beyond European borders, acknowledging Erasmus+ role in EU foreign policy, considering its expansion towards third countries, as well as its increasing budget. He was underlining how the programme has thus expanded from its origins as an EU identity mechanism to a tool able to influence perceptions outside the EU through student engagement within the EU. Following up with the example of reduced collaboration with Russia, given the current circumstances, Mr Pinto pointed out how mobilities between the EU and Russia, albeit significantly decreasing, are nevertheless still being conducted, showing the efficiency of exchange and mobilities in being a foreign policy tool.
“We may never forget why Erasmus is important. Through education, we can change individual perspectives.”
Learning from each other
Closing the panel discussion, Monica Verzola, Board Member EVTA, considered the spillover of positive effects caused by mobility in the VET sector but also pointed out that professionals must be re-trained to facilitate the internationalisation of VET mobilities. Currently, mobility is not mainstreamed across the VET curricula, while further coordinated effort is needed amongst VET providers, civil society and policymakers at the national and EU levels. The challenge is also that VET mobility has a strong work-based approach and is in need of an improvement of its cultural side. All is compounded by the cuts to VET mobility during the pandemic, which has still not returned to pre-COVID-19 levels. Within LLLP, a dedicated Internationalisation Working Group promotes internationalisation as a tool for living up to social inclusion and innovation, providing a life-changing chance to disadvantaged learners but also activating learners and training professionals so that they can learn from each other. The Internationalisation Working Group serves as a capacity-building opportunity for LLLP members on advocacy and good practices related to the meaningful internationalisation of mobility experiences.
“The core issue is to continue to improve VET mobility. This means the training of professionals all over Europe to improve the quality. It is necessary to make an overview, variating from stakeholders to politicians. We have to look at the historical moment we’re at.”
Text: EAEA & Lifelong Learning Platform