The 27 European Union member countries have taken a symbolically important step to provide a pan-European character to their education and training systems, a policy area traditionally reserved for national governments in the EU.
The EU's Council of Ministers earlier this month adopted what they called a 'strategic framework' for cooperation to reform national education systems, including the tertiary sector, saying this sent "an important signal in the current economic crisis".
Common challenges such as skills deficits, ageing societies and tough global competition needed joint responses and countries learning from each other, the ministers said. The council's comments identified immediate priorities for 2009-11 and long-term challenges for the decade ahead using new education and training benchmarks for monitoring progress across Europe.
Although the council's analysis of the challenges is solid, there will be doubts about how far individual governments will want to travel down this road in practice. National control of education and training is jealously guarded in the EU and the extent of collective action in the sector could be limited.
But there will still be room for EU action in areas where single countries cannot act alone - for instance, helping students and researchers move freely across borders and developing updated benchmarks to measure the progress made by education and training systems at European level.
"Other goals will be easier to achieve if countries learn from each other and develop common tools, which can then be adapted to meet the specific needs of each country," said the council. It said lifelong learning "must become a reality across Europe so people can acquire key skills early and update them throughout their life".
Separately the European Commission has invited research organisations in the public and private sectors in the EU, and in associated countries, to submit proposals to take part in the commission's 2009 research work programme.
Specifically Brussels is seeking input for the 'People' element of its wealthy Seventh Framework Programme for research covered in particular budgets for its 'Marie Curie action: industry-academia partnerships and pathways'.
This is designed to create links between public research bodies and commercial companies "based on longer term cooperation programmes with a high potential for increasing knowledge-sharing and mutual understanding of the different cultural settings and skill requirements of both the industrial and academic sectors".
The organisers are looking for initiatives that cover at least two organisations, one each from the public and private sectors, and involving at least two different EU member states. A budget of EUR65 million has been earmarked for the project.
The objective, says Brussels, is "to improve early-stage researchers' career prospects in the public and private sectors, thereby making research careers more attractive to young people". Support will be provided for the recruitment of researchers (in the first five years of their research careers), the participation of senior visiting scientists of outstanding stature and a programme of networking activities, workshops and conferences involving the participants' own research staff and external researchers.
Examples of training include research in management and the financing of research projects, intellectual property rights, entrepreneurship, ethical aspects, communication and societal outreach.
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