Education reforms urgently needed to boost Europe's competitiveness, says Commission
The slow pace of reform in Europe’s education and training systems is threatening Europe’s long-term competitiveness, according to the Commission’s latest report on progress towards the Lisbon
objectives in the education field.
‘Top-quality education and training is vital if Europe is to develop as a knowledge society and compete effectively in the globalising world economy,’ said Ján Figel’, European
Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth. ‘Regrettably, this report shows that the Member States need to redouble their efforts to make the EU’s education and training meet the
challenges of the 21st century. The message to policy makers in the Member States is clear: we need more efficient investment in our human capital.’
In 2002 the Member States set out five benchmarks by which they would measure their progress in improving their education and training systems. The new report reveals that there has been good
progress on just one benchmark: the target for the number of graduates in mathematics, science and technology (MST) has already been met.
The number of graduates in MST has increased at a rate of 4.7% a year, putting the EU on track to surpass its goal of boosting the number of MST graduates by 15% by 2010. Countries with a
relatively high number of MST graduates include Ireland, France, Lithuania, Finland and the UK. Estonia, Greece, Poland, Austria and Italy are also showing strong progress.
However, the benchmark does not just refer to the number of graduates; it also notes that the level of gender imbalance in the MST field should decrease. Here there has been very little
progress; at EU level the proportion of female MST graduates increased from 30.8% in 2000 to 31.2% in 2005.
The problem is particularly pronounced in engineering (19% female graduates) and computing (24%). Mathematics and statistics have had a good gender balance since 2000, while in the life
sciences women make up the majority (61%) of graduates.
However, the report does sound a note of hope. In the student population as a whole, women outnumber men, and this imbalance is even more pronounced among graduates; in 2004 women accounted for
58.7% of graduates. ‘The high share of women in other fields shows that there is clear potential to increase the female share in MST too,’ the report concludes.
Another issue highlighted by the report is the fact that the increase in MST graduates has not been reflected in the numbers of people employed as researchers, as many MST graduates opt for
non-science careers or for jobs in other countries.
‘It is hence important to create conditions conducive to a thriving research environment in Europe and to avoid a loss of European MST graduates to other sectors of the economy and other parts
of the world,’ the report states.
The report notes that if the Barcelona goal of spending 3% of GDP on research were reached, there would be more resources for research and research posts and therefore an increased need for
However, while progress on the MST benchmark has been good, the same cannot be said of the other benchmarks. Specifically, there are still too many early school leavers; more graduates from
upper secondary school are needed; improvements in the literacy levels of 15 year olds are needed and there is insufficient participation in lifelong learning activities by adults.
The financing of educational systems is also giving cause for concern, as studies repeatedly show that the most effective area in which to increase investment is in pre-primary education.