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Czechs at the helm!

The Czechs are at the helm!  This month has seen Prime Minister M. Topolánek and co. take over the Presidency of the EU from the French under the banner of a ‘Europe without barriers’.  At a meeting in Prague on 6th January, the Prime Minister and his deputy launched the official work programme for the next six months, highlighting their priorities as the three ‘E’s’:  Economy, Energy and Europe in the world.   While it is sad, but unsurprising, that education is not one of the three priority ‘E’s, this Presidency like any other will be steering Europe’s education policy over the coming months. So what lies in store for higher education under the Czechs?  Will it be ‘more of the same’ or might there be a shift in emphasis?  Time to take a look at what is being promised on paper…

In short, the work programme has three education components:

1.  Updated Strategic Framework for European Cooperation in Education and Training beyond 2010.

The emphasis of the Czech Presidency is going to be on the ‘big picture’ of higher education, with a focus on negotiating the future strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training beyond 2010.  Following on from the Commission’s Communication and the Education and Training 2010 Work Programme, the new strategic framework will seek to set the long-term objectives of European cooperation on education over the next decade.  The Presidency will be developing the key messages on education to present to the European Council meeting in May which will be mandated to approve the new strategic framework.  Reference is also made in the work programme to debates on topical issues, including support for mobility, and to the implementation of ‘common tools’ such as the European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET) and the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for Vocational Education and Training (EQARF).

2.  Partnership between the Field of Education and Employers: Openness of Schools to New Challenges.

The Presidency will stress the need for a culture of openness among educational institutions, and the need for greater cooperation between them and employers and regions, in order to implement what is referred to as the ‘knowledge triangle’.  There will be close cooperation between the Presidency and the Commission on the latter’s initiative to increase cooperation between universities and the business sector.

3.  Development of Higher Education – Quality and Openness (The Bologna Process).

In terms of what is one of ESU’s top priorities for the coming months, the Czech Presidency says it will ‘engage’ in evaluating the implementation of the priorities of the Bologna Process set for 2007 – 2009, and in preparing the interim report on the overall progress made between 1999-2009.  It will also play a role in gathering the supporting documentation needed to define the future of higher education beyond 2010, and will coordinate the Bologna Follow-Up Group (BFUG) in the build up to the Spring Ministerial Conference in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve.


What ESU would like to see from the Czech Presidency:

ESU welcomes the commitments from the Czech Presidency on continuing the EU’s higher education priorities over the next 6 months.  However, we would like to see commitments that go beyond taking forward the work already in progress.  In particular, we call upon the new Presidency to be bolder in its vision for a real progress in finally establishing the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).  While we support the Presidency in their planned work on the development of stronger links between universities and the private sector, we would like to see this market-driven approach complimented by an equal emphasis on the social dimension and balanced mobility across all the EHEA signatory countries.

In particular, we would like to see the section on Quality and the Bologna Process expanded to explicitly mention the need for stakeholder engagement and for more work on the social dimension, which is very important in the current economic crisis.  We would also warmly welcome a commitment to actively encourage national governments, to at least maintain current levels of higher education spending during the crisis, as a key way of achieving sustainable development and to ensure that higher education continues to fulfil its societal commitment. Our vision is that only the genuine commitment to supporting higher education as a public good will ensure that active citizenship and critical thinking become pre-requisites of our democratic societies.

Equity is a key part of the Commission’s proposals on the Lisbon Strategy, and we would like to see this concretely reflected in the Czech Presidency’s work in this area.The next six months are going to be an important time for higher education at the European level with the Bologna Ministerial Conference and the launch of the new Strategic Framework for Education and Training.  We very much hope that the Czech Presidency will rise up to meeting these challenges in a way that places the values of equity, mobility, and access to a high quality education for all at the heart of the European policy process.


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