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European Union. Common Market in education: coordination or unification
The inclusion of education into the Union’s policies, though at the level of supporting and coordinating EU’s activities, has had quite specific features. On the face of “inclusion” we can see that the EU acquired a simple role of coordinator in Europe’s educational process with almost exclusive member states’ competences in this sphere. On another side, such coordination has often evolved into more concentrated efforts towards unification in regional science and education. The combination proved to be quite efficient as it served both the interests of the member sates and the whole Union. And more than that, these efforts have activated the free flow of students and work force in the Union providing for the export of education among the countries in the region.
The EU made several important steps towards creating European Education Area. Thus, for example, it was by the invitation from the European Union that Bologna process started in 1999 invited 45 nations (three times the then Community’s members) to participate in a “quite revolution” that subsequently occurred in the European education.
As a result, about 80% of European universities have ditched their old 5-6-years undergraduate programs, expensive both for students, families and the state budget. Presently, about 75% of European education institutions use common system for transparent academic credits. However, only half of them issue diploma supplement to graduate students.
Among most important outcomes of the bologna process, creating European High Education Area (EHEA), besides general Europass procedures, are the following:
• Diplomas are easier to translate due to diploma supplements in Europass;
• The length of time to complete a bachelor’s and master’s degree is being unified;
• Europass increased students’ mobility.
Somehow, it is to be underlined that Bologna process and EHEA’s ideas are voluntary process as it concerns the member states’ efforts.
Many barriers have been removed, but a number of practical obstacles remain, such as making skills and qualifications understood across European borders.
Union’s Europass initiatives have helped people to highlight their assets in an effective way abroad. There are 5 “Europass documents” that can be fulfilled with the help of the online tools.
• European CV streamlining personal skills and competences;
• European language passport, describing language skills, using a framework of proficiency levels;
Other three are used after achieving specific learning experiences;
• Europass mobility: records of work placements or exchange programs abroad;
• Europass diploma supplement showing detailed information on education records of the degree received;
• Europass certificate supplement explaining programs’ contents in terms of skills in certificate.
More information can be found at the following address: http://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/europass/preview.action.
The role of Universities for the EU future labour market
The EU’s coordination role in education sphere gave room for the increasingly strong regional cooperation in this field: Baltic Sea Commission, Nordic Council, Northern Dimension, to name quite a few.
Somehow, there is a certain member states-EU dilemma: the EU is a coordinating body with supporting effect; and the MS taking the whole burden of responsibility leaving much room to bi-lateral and multi-lateral cooperation. Some trends can be shown:
• In order to be competitive, Universities generally follow the structural reforms designed in the MS. The range of “future specialists” needed for a competitive national economy is established by political decisions (this happened e.g. in Denmark reorganizing the whole education system) and universities follow the trend. Presently, however, demographic problems make the issue more complicated.
• Public-private education. Private high schools are more sensitive to the market needs, public are more conservative. In Scandinavian countries where education is a public matter more often one can hear demands to make universities more adaptable to market needs.
• Improving teachers’ quality in the EU (August Commission communication).
• Creating in the MS integrated multi-disciplinary education canters combining: a) traditional sectors of a University; b) technical university; c) technical university; c) business school.
On one side, people’s career is both part of education and a life-style, on another SMEs are occupy leading positions in modern economy, the fact that can not be ignored.
Eastern and Western Universities: partners or competitors?
The answer is - both; as partners they are united by the main common requirements within “European Educational Area” such as terms of education (e.g. Bachelor-Master as 2+3 years) and accreditation process for programs and education institutions.
The Commission, within the scope of its competences, is urging MS to address education problems by proposing a set of common guidelines and principles for action.
Some successful signs of such cooperation are evident, for example 20 years of Erasmus program which started in 1987.
Besides the Commission itself, there is generally Committee of the Regions as to provide support for the EU’s coordination efforts with the co-decision procedure which requires a common position by the Parliament and the Council.
Partnership is supported by the Commission, e.g. two-three universities can make a joint program. Graduate schools establish joint or dual-degree programs with universities in other countries.
European Union is in the active process to form a common market in education. From January 2006 the EU family of “executive agencies” was supplemented with the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA, Gilbert Gascard, director) which had taken over the management of seven main EU programs: Socrates, Leonardo, Youth, Media, Culture, eLearning and Erasmus. It was regarded as a logical step after 2000-process aimed at improving higher education efficiency. More on: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu.
Growing globalization in higher education provides good stimuli for competition. Two main trends can be mentioned:
• One is attracting foreign students: the number of foreign students rises in most Western countries, e.g. in the US the number of graduates has risen by 8% for a 3rd consecutive year;
• Another is growing globalization in higher education which is realized in establishing “collaborative degree programs” (CDP). About 30% of US graduate schools with CDP have master’s degree programs in European universities; about 18% have doctoral programs in Europe. Nearly 25% of US graduate schools have master’s programs with Chinese colleges and 14% — with institutions in India.
The Baltic Course 27, Autumn 2007