Brussels, 7 November 2016
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What is the state of education in the EU and its Member States? Every year, the European Commission analyses how far we have come in making our education and training systems fit for purpose. I am pleased to present the latest findings to you today.
Education is crucial in equipping people with the right skills to find fulfilling work and become independent, engaged citizens. It drives innovation, economic growth and competitiveness. But education can only play its part if it delivers good results. Member States have made a lot of progress. But, as the 2016 Education and Training Monitor shows, more will have to be done to make sure that our education systems respond to the needs of dynamic job markets and become more inclusive.
Today, this is more vital than ever. Europe is facing tough challenges such as unemployment, slow economic growth and rising social inequality. And we need to make a special effort to help refugees and migrants coming to Europe to find their place in our societies. This includes integrating them as quickly as possible into our education systems.
Given these challenges, it is encouraging to see that public investment in education has started to rise again. After three consecutive years of decline, it grew by 1.1% annually across the EU in 2014 - and in six Member States even by more than 5%. Although the overall increase is small and some governments actually cut spending on education in 2014, the trend is positive. Investing in education means investing in our future. The EU is ready to support Member States in this.
We also continue to see progress towards reaching important EU targets. For example, the share of young people dropping out of education has now fallen to 11% across the EU. This means that we are on course to reach the goal of pushing it below 10% by 2020.
Yet, discrepancies remain between countries and sometimes between different regions in the same Member State. And the share of young people with a migration background leaving education early is nearly twice as high as for native-born pupils.
Other findings of the report point to the same issue: young people with a migrant background are more likely to struggle with basic skills such as reading, writing and maths, and are less likely to complete a university degree – even though overall, the percentage of tertiary education attainment has climbed to 38.7%, meaning that the 40% target for 2020 is within reach.
Making our education systems fit for purpose is not only a question of staying prosperous and competitive. It is a question of fairness. We need to do better at ensuring that our schools, vocational training institutions and universities offer opportunities and high-quality education to all. And there are encouraging examples of countries providing specific support to refugees and migrants.
Germany is discussing the recruitment of more than 40,000 teachers and thousands of social workers to create around 300,000 new places in its education system, from early childhood education and care to vocational education and training. Finland has boosted financial support to municipalities to organise preparatory classes, and Belgium has increased the capacity of reception classes and the number of language teachers.
Improving education systems to make sure they give young people from all backgrounds a good start in life is a big task. A task that will face us for years, if not for a generation.
The European Commission is working with Member States towards this goal: by encouraging mutual learning and reform through dialogue and programmes like Erasmus+. And as part of the Skills Agenda, we will for instance define essential competences which young people need to succeed in the job market and in life. The Education and Training Monitor is an integral part of this work. By providing sound evidence and a basis for dialogue, it has helped Member States in driving improvements to their own education systems. I will work to ensure the Monitor continues to help make a difference.