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Making the grade - 26/11/2009

Young students with books in front of a building with European stars ©EC

Education targets - EU meets one goal but will miss deadline for others.

Nearly 10 years after member countries agreed to 5 key targets in education and training, an update on their progress indicates they will not achieve the goals by the 2010 deadline.

Only one target has been reached - a 15% rise in the number of university students graduating with degrees in maths, science and technology. And more women are among the graduates, fulfilling a condition tied to that target.

In 3 other areas - participation in lifelong learning, reduction in the drop-out rate for secondary schools and universities, and completion of upper secondary school education - EU countries have made progress but on the whole still fall short of their goals.

As for the fifth target - improving the reading skills of 15-year-olds -the EU has not only failed to reach its goal, it has lost ground compared with the situation a decade ago.

In general, education levels in Europe have increased. People with lower levels of education still account for 30% of the working-age population or 77 million people. But that number has dropped by about a million every year since 2000.

While the EU has long recognized that better education is crucial to overcoming economic and social hurdles, the recent recession has underlined the urgency of education reform and investment, the commission said.

A separate report evaluating cooperation in education between EU countries says investment per student has increased since 2000 at all educational levels. However, spending in higher education is not rising as fast as previously. EU countries would need to invest an average €10 000 more per student per year in higher education to catch up with the US.

The targets are part of the "Lisbon strategy", a 10-year plan for jobs and growth that leaders adopted in 2000. The commission publishes annual reports on the EU's progress under this plan.

With the strategy about to expire, the EU is revisiting its goals. Earlier this year, EU governments added targets for early childhood education and post-secondary education. They also agreed to expand the reading target for 15-year-olds to include maths and science skills.

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