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Position Paper: For a European Youth-Policy in the Union

Position paper on the European Union youth policies.

Introduction

The role of Youth in the European construction has been acknowledged by many sides. But still, in many cases this recognition is only made of empty wordings.

Young people in Europe are called to be active players in the European construction. At the same time the Youth policies in Europe are stuck into wonderful projects with very few resources.

Hereby AEGEE makes itself promoter of more realistic Youth Policies across Europe by using three main methods:

1)       networking: the creation of trans-national networks of partner organizations and institutions facing similar problems and similar issues so as to promote the organized exchange of ideas and dissemination of good practice. This is essential to build a strong, lasting multiplier capacity in the different systems;

2)       mobility and exchange: the active encouragement of staff and students to gain direct experience in another Member State and also to promote long term collaboration between the education and training institutions involved.

3)       joint transnational projects: projects between partners in different Member States that are committed to the transfer of innovative approaches to education and training problems in a European framework. Furthermore it is important the introduction of a European dimension to the content of training, whatever the discipline or area of study are.

The main aims are, again, the establishment of a way of promoting the European Idea among the different students.

Students Mobility

Students’ Mobility represents a chance for a better European Construction.

On this basis, the Head of State of the European Union decided in 1987 to launch the ERASMUS program.

Today the main issues do not concern any more mobility exclusively intended as physical mobility but as well as Intellectual Mobility. The main frame to actions in this sense has been offered, until now, by the SOCRATES program.  At the eve of the launch of the SOCRATES II an evaluation of the SOCRATES I campaign is of utmost importance, in order to improve the concept and the ways of implementation of Students Mobility.

PHYSICAL MOBILITY…

The concept of physical mobility becomes more and more a common one within the students’ world. A growing number of students look forward to the possibility to spend abroad a period of their study time, attending the corresponding faculty in another country.

Recent data clearly show the importance students attach to the opportunity offered to them through the experience of studying abroad. Such an experience means to know and become involved in different education systems, to get in touch with other cultures, ways of thinking, and to make of a foreign language a familiar one. But it means as well to receive an education more centered on Europe, since students feel themselves part of another country educational system and therefore, feel European.

Physical mobility can, then, be the easier way to make born and grow up a European citizenship feeling.

However,  physical mobility is not implemented without problems, both on practical and theoretical levels: financing, recognition of titles, daily life questions, limited number of exchanges…

Nevertheless, the fact that the European Commission is launching a new reorganized program, that regional mobility programs start to be set up all around Europe and that the interest of students is always increasing show us the importance of keeping alive the discussion and the evaluation on physical mobility programs in order to improve them.

…AND INTELLECTUAL MOBILITY

On the other hand, some of the difficulties encountered until now in the implementation of the physical mobility programs can be overcome by a wide introduction of the intellectual mobility concept.

Intellectual or virtual mobility has been proposed recently, even if the concept is not a new one, as a possible and feasible solution for some problems arose within the development of the physical one. The ERASMUS program has achieved its goal of giving the possibility to be mobile to the 5-10% of students all around Europe. But what about those left home?

If we want to achieve a European dimension of education, we have to try to involve as many students as possible: each one of us has to receive the chance to know history, economics, law and social questions of the other European countries. Every one of us should be able to communicate in a language other than his/her own one, should experience other system of teaching and learning. Even students who can not afford to leave and study in other countries have the right to receive this kind of open European education. And, in the same way, it would be possible also to reach part of the students who do not feel like going  abroad, ensuring that they will be ready tomorrow to live as European citizens.

These are the aims of intellectual mobility. Which are the means? European studies curricula, languages training, teachers’ education, the common uses of technological means…

The challenge today is to make a common effort to have these new tools studied and implemented in the widest way as possible; and this is a challenge in which we are all involved: students, professors, universities, states and European institutions.

European-Wide Educational Policy

The European-Wide Educational policy is a necessity. The development of the European idea can only come through Education. As pointed out in the White paper on education and Training — “Teaching and Learning: Towards the Learning Society” the curriculum of the future will need to comprise something generally known as European Dimension of Education.

This can be reached firstly with the implementation of students’ mobility schemes as pointed out beforehand, but as well with a serious co-ordination attempt of the education/training policies of the single EU member states.

The National Level. Uniting without Unifying

The situation in member countries needs to be kept in mind. In fact, any try of harmonization of the Youth Policies needs to take into account the basic rule of uniting without unifying.

In most EU member states associations and NGOs play a dominant role in the provision of training for voluntary and/or professional youth workers. Lots of people do not possess officially recognized degrees or professional certificates, and instead have qualification gained through years of practical experience with the youth association movement. Thus, an official policy for the recognition of voluntary work has to be developed, European wide. Especially in countries of old tradition of voluntary movement, the work inside the associations represents a good start for any professional formation.

The trend that has to be corrected here is the under-evaluation of these experiences by the majority of the member states’ governments as well as by the European Union as such. One of the signs of this under-estimation is the absence to any reference to Youth Organizations and their important role in today’s society inside the Treaty of Amsterdam[1].

One of the possible solution in this sense could be a European Union initiative for the establishment of a European status for International NGOs. This in order to foster one of the main strategies, as listed before networking.

In the last years, anyway, the range of officially recognized routes to professional qualifications for young people has increased, and the demand for “endorsed” qualification is gradually becoming the norm. Youth work is now being integrated in the official systems of secondary-level and advanced vocational and professional training as well as in university systems. In this way, the youth work is acquiring a more or less regulated frame-work.

The ways to enter a career in youth work and obtain the relevant professional training are increasing. Still, the reaction of the “official” system is far slower than the needs of the labor market. Today the gap in terms of effectiveness, for example, between what is requested from an engineer in the State exams and what is requested by the market is becoming bigger and bigger.

Most of the States of the Union are now tending to group together the different systems and to implement the different measures which define more clearly professional profiles. The aim is to establish a more coherent planning of training methods and content as well. So, the recognition of the acquis in terms of education should still be one of the main points, instead of limiting ourselves to the recognition of official diplomas.

Vocational Training

The Global Vocational Training policy of both the European Union and the single member states does not match the needs of the markets. Today, we see for the first time, especially at regional level and thanks to the Social European Fund, the development of serious specialized courses. Today the labor market already refuses this approach, asking flexibility instead of specialization. According to a research made by AEGEE-Europe among 50 top enterprises across Europe, the next few years will increase the request for generalists, with a specialization in more sectors. The main requirements that the single worker will need to match are “ability to work in international environment,” “open-mindness” etc., more than directly technical or scientific skills.

Provisional Conclusions

The European dimension has yet to be included in the training and educational provisions available in all Member States. This can only be reached through a serious mobility scheme development, as indicated above.

A further development in this sense has to be reached by the improvement of the co-ordination between the different countries.

Here, the financial efforts for education and training that the European Commission does, even through the European Social Fund, should be focused on the development of the European Dimension, and not only used as substitutes for the limited national funds.

Education-The base for employment

One of the main issues of these years is unemployment. For the first time in its history Europe is facing a structural unemployment. For this reason a European-wide policy for employment, which will take into account not only the positions of member-states, but as well those of the new candidates, is needed.

Today, a serious policy against unemployment cannot be believable without the support of a considerate Educational policy.

Students all over Europe are waiting for their governments to change their attitude towards the problem. On the contrary, governments are postponing their intervention, with the results that the gap between the labor market and the Education System is, today, extremely wide.

A good long-term policy for Education based on elasticity, internal flexibility, physical and intellectual mobility and trans-national relations will reach two significant goals: decreasing the existing gap between the employers and the formation structures and releasing more resources for new job places.

Employability

This in order to reach the main concept of employability. Further comments on the topics are necessary. Employability is not just a simple measure of how a person can fit in his job. It depends from many factors, and the main one is again derived from Education.

The Educational systems in Europe do not prepare young people for the job-market, not even by offering them the tools they need in order to find a job.

Life-long learning

Life-long learning should become the pillar of any education reform attempt. Starting from childhood until the old age, formation should occupy a major role in every day’s life.

It is a duty of the European Institutions to offer the means for coordinating these activities on a pan-European basis, stimulating the exchange of ideas and helping the Small and Medium Enterprises in their training efforts.

Moreover, Lifelong Learning should be enforced by new mobility schemes (Intellectual and physical ones) on one side for what concerns pupils and, on the other for workers and elder people.

The Socrates programme

The society in which we are living is growing more and more international and as such, will require its citizens to master foreign languages and an intercultural environment.

There is a strong need now to acquire the necessary knowledge to handle properly cultural differences and to learn to be more flexible.

The objective is therefore to promote a European conscience through an increased mobility in Europe.

At a time when the European Commission is trying to involve more its citizens through information campaigns like “Citizen’s First”, it reduces at the same time its support to the SOCRATES program.

However, usually: “Actions speak louder than words”

The SOCRATES program has been the only one to achieve the aim of creating a European feeling. It helped to destroy prejudices and to enhance a mutual understanding, a tolerant approach towards different cultures and different ways of thinking and helped creating this long lasting ties which personal contacts are.

It is nowadays crucial for the future of Europe to create more than an economic Union. For 40 years now, the building of a Social Europe has always been postponed but meanwhile, the population is still waiting for an aim to strive for.

The European Union should concentrate more on fulfilling citizens’ concerns and not only governments’ ones. Since, by growing closer to its citizens, the European Union would also strengthen itself.

The EU population has grown wearied of being considered as a second choice objective and this feeling is now passing through the attitudes of students and universities.

In losing now the support of universities and most of all, of students, the European Commission runs the risk of losing support from the whole current generation and will have to wait for 20 more years before being able to gain them to its cause again.

For 10 years now, the SOCRATES program has been carried by the motivation of teachers and students, who, if they reject it tomorrow, will lead to the failure of the SOCRATES program.

Losing SOCRATES, the European Commission will lose the only efficient tool it possesses nowadays to build up a European citizenship.

Nevertheless, for students and teachers to feel motivated, they firstly need to feel supported, both morally and financially. This can only be achieved through a substantial increase in the funds granted to the SOCRATES program.

Teachers and students need now more than just a feeling, they need a proof that the European Union feels concerned by their future.

The European Youth now needs to know that the European Union is strongly concerned by the personal development of each young European and that it will give them the means to achieve this aim.

Socrates Action Day

The 12th of November 1997, AEGEE organized the Socrates Action Day. A day concentrated on the evaluation of the SOCRATES program. In 54 universities across Europe Students, Teachers and experts discussed the issue. We are here able to provide a summarized version of the results of this evaluation.

As a student association, our concerns and thus our evaluation is mainly dealing with the ERASMUS program. Nevertheless, some critics and comments can be solved through other parts of the SOCRATES program and are therefore important.

Student’s mobility

Financial support and equal chances

Since ten years of its existence, the ERASMUS program has acquired fame in the university world and has attracted more and more students.

As a result, the amount of money granted to each student is decreasing. When the aim of the SOCRATES program is to cover the difference of expenses implied by a stay abroad, it often does not cover even this amount and can be referred at as some “pocket money” (90 ECU per month in Germany).

Even if the ERASMUS student mobility grant is not aimed at covering the whole cost of a stay abroad, the fact that the amount of the grants is so low is creating a disadvantage for students who do not have high personal incomes (by themselves or through their parents).

It results in a certain elitism in the selection as poorer students do not even ask for an ERASMUS stay abroad, knowing in advance that they will not be able to cope with its financial cost.

As well, the usual way to distribute the money is to give an equal amount to each student even though the cost of living is much higher in Scandinavia than in Spain, which results also in a discrepancy in the financial situation of ERASMUS students.

Following the principle of subsidiarity, it has been decided that the funding for ERASMUS should be completed by the local institutions (universities, local and regional councils). Here again, depending on the interest showed by these institutions toward Europe and on the wealth of these bodies, students might have another source of financial support or might not. For the unlucky ones living in a poor region or in a region hostile to the European Union, this support does not exist, creating more inequalities.

Selection criteria

A few problems have also been noticed on this subject. The situation here depends a lot on the country policy.

While in some countries, students get automatically accepted since there are not enough demand to cover the number of places available, in some others, the selection criteria are so hard that whatever their motivation can be, students cannot go abroad.

The transparency on the criteria applied is rather difficult to obtain, and there again, it varies from one university to the other. It ranges from no declared criteria at all to a selection depending on academic achievement, on tests, or on interviews.

One of the selection criteria that consist a rather important problem is the language knowledge. While some countries are impeding any student who does not have a sufficient knowledge of the host language to go, some others are sending abroad students who hardly speak a word and cannot then follow the courses properly.

Credits recognition

One of the main hindrance to student’s mobility is the non-recognition of the studies followed in a university abroad.

It seems that each country in Europe suffers from an “arrogance” virus that lead them to consider their system being better than the other countries’ one. This situation is first of all due to a weak knowledge in universities over Europe of the system and of the content of the courses given abroad.

Home teachers and universities only accept to recognize courses when they personally know either the teacher who is giving them or if they have been to this university previously in order to check the program there.

Quite often, the home university requires, in order to recognize them, that the courses correspond exactly to those which should have been followed at home and are taking place at the same time than in the home university.

Specific field of studies like Law, based on details and accurate knowledge then meet even more difficulties in organizing exchanges.

The recognition of the diplomas is also impeded not only by the slowness shown by the host universities to send the results, but also, beforehand, by the bad quality of the information reaching the home university about the available courses abroad. As a result, most students do not know exactly neither what courses they can take, nor the requirements their home university is expecting from them in order to recognize their study time abroad.

A lack of coordination between universities can also be seen, along with the previously seen lack of knowledge.

Teacher’s mobility

It has been shown previously that due to a lack of knowledge between universities, the courses’ recognition was very much dependent on teachers’ personal contacts abroad.

Hence, if the ERASMUS program has to survive, it will happen through an increased teachers’ mobility, giving then the abilities to universities to recognize credits acquired abroad more easily and thus, to solve one of the hindrance preventing students from applying for ERASMUS stays.

In fact, since its beginning, the ERASMUS program has been very much carried by the teachers who showed a great interest in the implementation and the outcomes of the ERASMUS program.

In fact, the expansion of the program depends very much on the dynamism shown by university towards European matters. It relies totally on each university’s will to create new contacts. No help or moral support is organized on that point, and as the administration officers have a too heavy load of work to carry, they cannot prospect by themselves. Teachers are then the only ones to fulfill this task.

Their motivation and their achievement are depending on their ability to travel and make new personal contacts in universities abroad. The funding for teachers’ mobility should thus not be decreased any further.

Lacking money to support their initiative and lacking faith in the program’s future, teachers could provoke the failure of the whole program.

As it is now, the SOCRATES program is also rather illogical. The implementation is very much centralized (universities have to sign the Institutional Contract with the European Commission with a strong financial control over the Community money) but is more and more decentralized for its funding. The actors of the SOCRATES program therefore feel like orphans who have nowhere to find a moral support for their involvement and dedication.

Financial support for universities

After two years of delay, the Institutional Contract has finally been implemented in 1997. As a result, universities all over Europe have received on average 10% of the money they required.

In each university, considering this small amount of financial support to cover the administration costs, there is now usually only one person who works on this subject and implements the whole program both inside and outside the university.

Considering the very central role that they are playing, they need to know and understand very well the organization of their partners. However, they do not have the time to do so, due to the very heavy bureaucratic process they have to comply with.

Miscommunication and lack of information

One of the main critics addressed to the SOCRATES program is its inability to create good communications between its components.

Universities are often not ready on time to provide their partners with sufficient information upon the courses proposed for the foreign students. Generally, not enough information is spread beforehand in order to allow student to prepare themselves to the cultural chock waiting them on their arrival.

Academic follow-up of ERASMUS students

It has been regretted by both the students and university officers that an academic follow-up of the ERASMUS student has not been organized. Firstly in order to really check the impact of an ERASMUS stay as a help to find a job and secondly in order to create a database where future students and universities could refer in order to improve their action and find new contacts.

The pedagogical follow-up of the ERASMUS student is also important as students acquired there a great added value in terms of tolerance and understanding of differences. The follow-up would lead to a spreading of this knowledge and a bigger impact toward students who did not have the chance  to go abroad.

The ERASMUS is nowadays loosing half of the effect it could have by not exploiting this experience.

Language courses

It has been noticed that the lack of knowledge of the host language was a strong impediment to both the selection of students and to the benefit they can get once abroad.

Language courses should therefore be a strong focus in every field of studies and not only in humanistic faculties. The knowledge of a second foreign language, being other than English should really be promoted.

youth for Europe and European Voluntary Service

The Youth for Europe program and the European Voluntary Service should be further developed. This especially due to the success these programs had.

Few remarks are necessary. First of all the structure of both programs is too bureaucratic, especially considering that the eligibility criteria consider as well rather small projects. Thus, a more wide-spread organization for the distribution of financial aid is necessary.

In addition there is a need of more information on the projects at grass-root level, in Universities and, in general, among young people.

For what concerns the European Voluntary Service, in the future this program should provide financial aid for Voluntary work also at International level. This at the moment is not possible and limits the access to the program.

Finally, we would like to stress our appreciation for the co-operation that the European Commission and Toyota Europe developed during 1997 for the Youth Action Europe project launched by Toyota. We truly believe that the Commission should try to attract more money from private investors to be used for the support of Youth Policies. The European Commission should not be afraid of accepting private donations, but on the other side it is necessary to give a law frame to these co-operation initiatives.

Appendix I: the evaluation developed by the European Commission. A case.

In this appendix we want to express some critics about the general approach of DG XXII of the European Commission towards the evaluation of the Youth Policies.

In particular we are referring to the Youth Meeting organized by the European Commission the 7-8 October 1997. This meeting saw the participation of 100 young people from all over Europe, chosen on the base of their participation in Youth Policy programs of the European Commission.

What we would like to criticize is first of all, the deliberate attempt to exclude all Youth organization form the discussion. Two members of our Board managed to participate to the conference, only after a direct request to the Organizing Secretariat. This principally meant the exclusion of the knowledge on the Youth Programs that only NGOs have at the moment. The result was a fragmentary evaluation, with people present that did not have the necessary knowledge for a serious evaluation  that takes into account the European-wide dimension of the projects.

The absence of the Youth Organization can lead to a distortion of the general experience. 8-10 students participating in the ERASMUS and not selected according to a geographical criteria, does not give a global overview on the project. Especially if the people participating never had the opportunity to deepen their knowledge on the programs.

Furthermore, a serious attempt on the seriousness of the event was given by the manipulation of the results of the workshops. In one case (workshop “Education and Training) the résumé of the speaker of the workshop was rewritten and handed back 10 minutes before the presentation.  This in several part of the résumé. This behavior, has to be deplored.

For the future, we suggest to have evaluation meetings composed of 50% young-people that participated in the programs, and 50% of delegates of the organizations involved in these projects. Moreover the possibility of discussion should be increased (More workshops), and the selection of the participants should be given in amore accurate way.

Proposals

Intercultural education

Multiple Cultures. This is one of the keywords that make Europe a singular Continent in the world, in the sense that In Europe the possibility of Multi-cultural work has been demonstrated.

Programs of students mobility are in this case one of the main pillars of a feasible intercultural education

These three main issues have to be taken into account:

1)      Cross-border co-operation, both inside the Union as well as between the Union and third countries. Borders represent the first challenge for an intercultural education. People leaving in borders’ regions should be encouraged to study the neighbor’s language, as well as to get in touch with their culture and their spirit. Furthermore, the exchange programs should be reinforced by an interaction between the higher and lower education structures of the two countries.

2)      Intellectual mobility should be reinforced, through training of teachers and courses of languages and civilization. Here it is important to stress how teachers should as well become mobile, especially in their early years of teaching.  Incentives should be offered to those teachers who decides to go abroad for teaching or learning. Here also the new Information and Communication Technologies can be used for a better interaction between cultures.

3)      A new frame should be given to the NGO initiative, especially for what concern students’ and youth exchange programs This will enable more effective actions and a minor overload of the public bureaucratic structures. Here a restructuring of the programs of Youth for Europe, should allow the realization of more low-budget projects, that are really aiming at creating a people-to-people link.

Intercultural learning means also further co-operation with other continents and other cultures outside Europe. This through the development of exchange programs and support for study and exchange initiatives among the continents. The policy should in this case go in three main direction:

1)      Trans-Atlantic dialogue. Apart being a good commercial partner, the USA and Canada (or in general, the NAFTA countries) should become a great cultural partner for Europe. Here the best solution is a development of a serious students’ exchange program, possibly focused around the dialogue on certain determined issues. One of them could be the new Information Society. AEGEE already presented a Position Paper in this sense for its participation to the Trans-Atlantic Agenda.

2)      Euro-Mediterranean co-operation. The Mediterranean has plays still a major role in the cultures of Europe. It is therefore of utmost importance to stimulate the dialogues with the countries on the Southern and Eastern part of the sea. This especially if take into account the problems arising in some Mediterranean countries like Algeria.

3)      Euro-Asiatic Dialogue. Asia represents the most natural border for Europe. A strategy that sees the involvement and the inclusion in the Youth Programs of the EU of Turkey will already give more inputs to the relationships with Asiatic countries, especially in the Middle East. Exchange programs in the frame of the TACIS program should be further developed. Finally, a serious dialogues on youth issues should be developed with countries like China and Japan.

Lifelong learning

For what concerns life-long learning, we have to strive for a more coordinated work in Europe on this issue.

Life-long learning is possible only though a serious development of partnerships programs between the private and the public sector. This in the frame of a global vision and a new approach to the concept itself of education. More training events, more support to NGOs and voluntary organizations are the keys for the success of this policy.

Moreover, more support should be given to the internal mobility inside the job market, especially in the early stage of formation.

towards the Information society

The Council of Ministers of 6 May 1996 issued a resolution encouraging the use of educational technology in partnership with the private sector;

One of the main role of educational systems is to enable people to cope with the changes brought about by the move towards the Information Society. In fact the main challenge of the future years is exactly the Information Society. How we want to become involved in the new era depends very much from the type of education we can give.

Furthermore the use of new technologies can help fostering the European dimension in education as well as help the removal of obstacles which hinder the take up of new technologies in the private sector

We need in particular to accelerate the entry of schools and universities in the Information Society.  Countries with a long-lasting tradition in education, have lowest rate of Internet access then some underdeveloped countries. This has to be improved, and a European dimension has to be given to this issue.

Secondly, we have to get a European approach to the new Information and Communication Technologies, in order, for example, to protect and support minority languages (which, in today’s Internet world, means all tongues apart English). This will enable the new Information Society to be democratic and respectful of cultures and traditions.

Thirdly, only a correct education will enable the future Information Society to be a tool for everybody, and not just for one class of people.

How can we concretely reach these aims?

We would like to propose some concrete actions.

First of all, encouraging the usage of Internet at grass-root level. In lots of countries young people still have difficulties in getting e-mail accounts. This means support for Universities and high-schools networks, which effectively offer access to the new means of communication, as well as direct support to NGOs and Foundations involved in projects of support to these initiatives.

Training for webmasters. The ability of interacting on the web should be given to all students.

Offer support for the realisation of new effective teaching tools. Through new innovative tools, we will be able to reach also the basic educational level.

This should come as an interaction between the public and the private sector, in order not to create new gaps between schools and job-market.

Recognition of the educational acquis

One of the most important gaps between the Public and the private system is visible in the different evaluation of curricula. Due to the gap existing between the Educational Systems and the current situation in the production world, companies are increasingly evaluating the acquis instead of official credits.

The main proposal in this direction is to get a general policy of recognition of the acquis in order to reach more flexibility.

How? By recognizing different working and cultural experiences, (work in NGOs and voluntary organizations) as well as other Educational Experiences considered “extra-academic.”



[1] For this AEGEE already proposed an official statement submitted to the Committee for Institutional Affairs of the European Parliament during the public hearing of last October.