For all those looking for information on educational opportunities in Europe, help is at hand. A portal has been launched this Spring that provides access to existing information resources on learning and training openings across Europe. Called PLOTEUS or http://www.ploteus.net/, the portal was officially opened to the public on 5 March 2003 by Education and Culture Commissioner Viviane Reding and is the result of a joint initiative by the European Commission's Education and Culture Directorate General and the IDA Programme of the Enterprise General Directorate.
Taking its name from the ancient Greek word for "navigator", PLOTEUS (Portal on Learning Opportunities Throughout the European Space) directs users towards a screen listing five topics: "Learning opportunities", "Education systems", "Exchanges", "Contact", and "Moving to a country". Depending on the field of interest, the user clicks on a heading and goes to a screen where requests for links to more information on, for example, the primary school education system in Finland or post-graduate business administration courses in France can be made.
Since its launch, PLOTEUS.net has attracted on average between 1,500 to 2,000 visitors a day. Still in the process of being expanded and developed, the site has already had its services translated into all of the official EU languages, as well a number of accession country languages. The portal is not only limited to offering information on courses and education systems - it also gives details on potential tuition fees, opportunities for grants, local taxation systems, cost of living and recognition of foreign diplomas and qualifications.
Informally, the portal's development was prompted by the increasing number of requests received by the European Commission from citizens for more details on learning opportunities in Europe, and in particular, from European nationals wishing to continue their studies in another EU country. This demand saw its more formal expression at the European councils in Lisbon, March 2000, and Stockholm, March 2001, where it was decided to launch a new drive to improve employability and to reduce skill gaps within the EU to create greater social cohesion and a more competitive economy.
The concept of PLOTEUS was born and, together with EURES (the European information service on job opportunities), is today part of a wider Internet service aimed at supporting mobility and life-long learning throughout the EU Member States, candidate and acceding countries and the EFTA countries.
DG Enterprise's IDA Programme played its part in PLOTEUS by funding the feasibility study for the portal in 2001. Later it followed the development and testing of the portal's software which took just over a year to complete. The system is based on a sophisticated web-content management tool that allows a de-centralized feeding of information as well as multidimensional classification and queries.
Now that the project is entering its second phase, the Commission and other relevant national authorities are working together to define a common protocol on the interconnection of national and regional databases on educational opportunities at a European level. At present, several participating countries have yet to develop a comprehensive national database, as foreseen in the Employment guidelines for 2001 and 2002. Once these databases have been completed, interconnection at a European level will be initiated.
While this process is underway, the content for the portal will continue to be updated and improved by the National Resource Centres for Vocational Guidance, a network of 65 national centres, funded jointly by the Commission's Leonardo da Vinci programme and national authorities. The gathering and updating of information as close as possible to the source is deliberate, being part of PLOTEUS' broader aim to establish a sustainable de-centralised database.
PLOTEUS is already bringing greater visibility to the provision of learning at a European level, as well as encouraging the development of databases on learning opportunities at a national level. In Italy, for instance, the Coordination of Regions is currently developing a common protocol for regional databases on vocational training. And in Spain, the Ministry of Education is launching a tender for the development of a portal on learning opportunities built on the PLOTEUS model. As a side advantage, PLOTEUS may even contribute to the comparability of education and training systems. With the PLOTEUS reference tool in place, navigating one's way around the maze of educational opportunities in Europe has just been made easier.
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Article published in the IDA Report 18 - June 2003