#EULearning – Reflections on the last 3 years

22 September 2015

Last week we convened the third International Conference as part of the UK’s contribution to the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL) and NIACE’s role as the UK National Coordinator for the EAAL. The conference marked the end of the 2014/15 programme of work and I thought it would be a good time to press ‘pause’ and reflect back on the last 3 years in our role.

NIACE has a long and well established reputation for working across and within Europe; its long term commitment and strategic role within the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) and the more recent European Basic Skills Network (EBSN) are just two examples of where NIACE chose to get involved at the European level. Our role has allowed us to take our mandate wider, to work directly with colleagues from across Europe involved in lifelong learning and to use that knowledge to help inform UK policy. That has worked the other way too, with some of our research and development work informing colleagues in other parts of Europe.

Anyone involved in European work will know that one of the key success factors is always about the partnerships that are formed. The stronger the partnership, the more likely it is to achieve the intended outcomes. Working across the UK, it was essential that we developed additional strong partnerships in Northern Ireland and Scotland to support our existing relationships at NIACE Cymru. Looking back, one of the reasons we were able to achieve so much over the last three years was specifically because of those partnerships we developed with Scotland’s Learning Partnership, the Forum for Adult Learning Northern Ireland and the UK National Agency for the Lifelong Learning Programme (Erasmus +) Ecorys and the British Council. Those partnerships were key in developing the UK wide Impact Forums by bringing together, sometimes for the first time, policy makers with employers; local government officers; learning providers; health providers, third sector organisations; trade unions and community groups, creating a platform for informing and learning. The new partnership that has been welcome this year has been with EPALE. For the first time we can all share right across Europe and the UK on how we can continue to make the case for adult learning within all areas of public policy.

Over the summer, the Commission published the draft joint report of ET 2020 and it looks quite positive. This is the report that sets the objectives and priorities for the next five years of the European Commission’s work in the area of Education & Training. It should be adopted by the Council in November.

The good news is that there seems to be a real change in approach to education and training. They re-confirmed the ET 2020’s four strategic objectives that were formulated back in 2009, but more importantly, they talk about the policy focus needing to be ‘re-calibrated’ to include both the pressing economic and employment challenges and the role of education in promoting equity and non-discrimination and in imparting fundamental values, intercultural competences and active citizenship. And the ‘re-calibration’ is very obvious when you check the rest of the text. Lifelong learning strategies are back, with 16 member states being applauded for having their own Lifelong Learning Strategies – the UK amongst them – which may come as a surprise to some people reading this. But what it does give us is a firm basis and clear mandate to continue with the priorities we identified in our programme of work for the UK back in May 2015, namely  basic skills, young unemployed adults and digital learning for  a forthcoming  two year EAAL programme due to start November this year a confirmation we received this week. So given the last three years, it will be interesting to look back over the last five years when we get to 2017 and to be able to identify the impact we have had in the UK and across Europe.

My own introduction to European work at NIACE started in 2003 when I worked with eight EU accession countries to support them in the development of Basic Skills strategic plans and good practice guides for delivery. Twelve years on, it was particularly pleasing on a personal level to see representatives from so many of those education ministries at our conference last week, in their own capacity as National Coordinators for the EAAL, but more importantly, to be working alongside them during the next 2 years of the EAAL programme.