Commissioner Vassiliou speaks at Youth on the Move conference in Antwerp
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Dear Minister Smet, Mrs Scheys, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, let me thank the Belgian Presidency for organising today's conference.
By focusing the discussion on learning mobility, you have brought us right into the heart of the EU's core business – freedom of movement.
And at exactly the right time. Not only because it is just two weeks since I launched our flagship initiative 'Youth on the Move', which I will speak about later.
But because we are at the start of the academic year; the start of a new chapter for millions of our young people. All over Europe, young people have been packing their bags and heading off to university. And around 200.000 of them are travelling with a European flag pinned to their backpacks, so to speak…. This is our Erasmus generation of 2010!
By now, after two decades of continuing success, we all know of Erasmus students in our families or our communities – and it makes me very happy that Erasmus has given the European Union a human face.
Of course, learning mobility is no longer limited just to university students or graduates, whether through Erasmus, Erasmus Mundus or the Marie Curie Actions. It should not be only for the elite, but should be made accessible to all young people, especially those from more disadvantaged groups. Counting in our Youth in Action programme and Leonardo da Vinci, a broad cross-section of young people has discovered the benefits of a learning period abroad.
While they may come from different backgrounds, and go abroad for different reasons, the benefits are the same.
European mobility programmes are all built on the conviction that engaging with people and cultures from other countries is intrinsically valuable.
By spending time immersed in a learning environment abroad, our young people gain valuable knowledge and understanding of other cultures and ways of doing things.
They broaden their perspectives, become more adaptable, more self-reliant, and develop their communication and language skills.
The experience of living and learning in another European country is an immensely valuable foundation stone for a career in our increasingly global European economy.
Individuals and employers alike are convinced of this –40 % of employers we surveyed saw, a learning period abroad as a real advantage.
And as one of our students said, "I realised that the experience made a whole new person of me; and that I would never look at the world and Europe, my home, as I did before."
The fact that learning mobility expands horizons has been a key factor shaping Youth on the Move - our new flagship initiative for young people in education and training and employment.
The younger generation has been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis. Since the crisis erupted, youth unemployment has climbed to over 20%. Almost one in seven young people is neither in education or training nor actively looking for work.
We run the risk of creating a "lost generation" - letting our young people down, just when they need us most.
We have to act, to help young people face these difficult times with confidence – and this is what the Europe 2020 strategy and Youth on the Move aim to do.
Many of the issues that trouble young people's lives already existed before the crisis. But the crisis has brought them to the fore.
One in seven young Europeans leaves school without completing secondary education. Leaving school early will probably burden them for the rest of their lives… Jobs, and job patterns, are becoming more complex. Life is becoming more complex. Very few people can get by with only basic skills
At the same time, fewer than one in three young Europeans obtains a higher education qualification – less than in major competitor countries such as the USA and Japan – and even less again than some of the newly emerging economies. And yet, we are going to need our highly skilled young people more than ever, if we are to fulfil our ambition of smart, inclusive and sustainable growth.
I call it an ambition, ladies and gentlemen – but in fact, we have no choice. We cannot pretend our resources are unlimited. We cannot ignore the growing global competition. And we cannot overlook the poverty and deprivation in our midst.
These are the compelling reasons shaping the Europe 2020 Strategy. They are the compelling reasons for putting education at its heart.
Europe's leaders have set two European targets in education and training:
- to reduce the proportion of early school leavers to below 10% by 2020
- and to increase the share of university graduates (or equivalent) to 40% in the same timeframe.
At the same time, the strategy includes an ambitious target to raise the overall employment rate in the EU from 69% to 75% in the next decade.
Ladies and gentlemen,
you will hear more about the content of Youth on the Move later. But I want to give you a quick overview of what is a highly integrated, holistic framework for reform.
We focus on improving schooling, university education and training; on multiplying opportunities for learning and job mobility; and on better job conditions and opportunities.
The work will be shared with the Member States, of course; and also reaches across sectoral boundaries, so that the combined weight of education and employment policy can be put to work for young people.
So, ladies and gentlemen, what do we hope to achieve?
First of all, smart, inclusive growth depends on highly skilled people. Our schools and training colleges need to give people every chance to build a robust portfolio of skills: solid technical skills combined with the adaptability, risk-taking and communication skills that enable us to thrive in a fast-changing world.
We set out a range of measures to improve the quality of learning opportunities for young people. This includes a new Recommendation to help Member States tackle early school leaving and a new high level group on literacy. We will also work on better recognition of the skills that people gain outside formal education –especially useful for those young people who dropped out of school early.
Secondly – as the European target underlines – we urgently need more graduates to reach our full innovation potential.
We will publish a new modernisation strategy for higher education next year to engage with the top issues for universities –
- developing education programmes that meet the needs and issues of today;
- equipping graduates with employable skills;
- anchoring universities in knowledge partnerships;
- and a strategy for promoting Europe as a study destination in a global higher education "market".
And here we should not forget the key role of Erasmus in shaping Europe into a greatly unified higher education destination.
Think back two decades: the initial Erasmus contact between universities was often the first time the individual players saw themselves within a much greater European landscape.
European quality initiatives; a thirst for more information as to what our universities do; cooperation to remove the barriers to mobility… all the reforms carried forward in the Bologna process and in our modernisation agenda are following in the footsteps of the first Erasmus pioneers.
And this brings me to my third point. Every year, around 200.000 young people opt for Erasmus. Impressive– but it is in fact only a small percentage of our youth population.
Having seen how learning mobility benefits the participants, we want, with Youth on the Move, to open it up to all young people.
We have a multi-pronged approach:
- Helping Member states dismantle obstacles, via a Recommendation on mobility, and monitoring progress through a Mobility Scoreboard;
- devising new forms of mobility, for example, in employment, to give young people work experience which can help ease them onto the jobs market;
- and building a strong groundswell of support for youth mobility: linking up with other funding sources, and getting backing from public authorities, civil society and business.
Finally, Youth on the Move sets out a new European Youth Employment Framework, overseen by my colleague Lazslo Andor, the Commissioner for Employment. It aims to develop active labour market policies to support young people, while urging Member States to reform labour markets so young people find it easier to get secure jobs.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me stress that Youth on the Move is a strategy, not a funding programme. But funding of our ambitions – and of young people's opportunities - will of course be on the table as we develop the next generation of programmes. We have just opened the consultation on these, and I encourage you to contribute.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me finish by recalling why I believe so strongly in learning mobility.
It was Marcel Proust who said, 'the real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes'. Learning mobility takes our young people to new places. But most of all, it takes them to a new understanding: it transforms how they see themselves, how they see each other, and how they see the world.
May our combined efforts continue, so that this transformation is within the reach of all young Europeans.