Speech by Dainius Pavalkis, Minister of Education, at the European Parliament, Culture and Education Committee

10 July 2013, Last updated at, 16:53 EEST
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Dainius Pavalkis | author: eu2013

First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity that was given to me to present the priorities in education of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

I would also like to congratulate the partners of our Trio, the Irish and the Greeks, for perfect cooperation in preparing and coordinating the Trio programme, and especially my Irish colleague and his team for the very successful start of its implementation.

I would like to begin my presentation from what was everyone’s biggest concern over the past year and a half, and what was agreed upon by joint efforts during the last week of the Irish presidency. I am talking about ERASMUS+, the new education, youth and sports programme.

I would like to kindly thank all the Members of the CULT committee, and especially you, Madame Chair, for your constructive approach and good will in seeking the most acceptable solutions to make this new programme correspond to the present capabilities of the European Union and the expectations of its future participants.

Such effective progress on the programme could only have been achieved thanks to the especially positive and constructive atmosphere in which the negotiations were held, and detailed preparatory work carried out by the Irish Presidency, the European Parliament and Council secretariats, and the Commission. Indeed, one Deputy Permanent Representative had described this as a “model of good inter – institutional relations, efficiency and cooperation.”

It now falls to the Lithuanian Presidency – with your assistance, Madam Chair - to add the final pieces and to start making preparations for implementing the new Erasmus + programme so that it can be started, as planned, on 01 January 2014.

While the concrete figures for the Programme’s budget are not yet confirmed, we can be certain – and indeed extremely satisfied – that the final figure will represent a considerable increase in real terms over the budgets for the current Programmes. This is a remarkable achievement at a time of scarce financial resources and testimony to the Union’s commitment to enhancing growth and to supporting young people in these exceptionally difficult economic times.
As we speak about education and training in the 28 member states of the community, we are talking about the well being of 500 million European Union citizens. We must ensure everyone access to quality and timely education, be it general education, higher education, in-service training or informal learning.

Therefore during our Presidency we wish to emphasise the principles of quality and efficiency in the field of education and training.
Our priorities over the next six months will be as follows:
• Internationalisation/globalisation of higher education and efficiency of its financing,
• leadership in education,
• promoting openness of VET system, as well as strategic alliance between the world of Education and Employment .
• we will also discuss Open Educational Resources and digital learning.

Let me say a word on each.
Globalisation and technological development are changing the landscape of higher education and posing challenges to which Europe needs to respond. The international dimension of higher education is now a key topic on the European policy agenda in this area, the aim of which is to promote academic mobility and global cooperation between higher education institutions and thereby to improve the quality of higher education.

It is fair to say that European higher education institutions clearly have quite a positive record on internationalisation, notably via their participation in EU and national academic cooperation programmes.
They have a rich and diverse experience in developing international curricula and joint degrees, in fostering international education, research and innovation projects, in exchanging students, researchers, staff and knowledge.

While academic mobility is obviously a key component of any internationalisation strategy, there is also a need to encourage more partnerships in higher education, not least with institutions in the EU Neighbouring/Eastern Partnership countries. This will help to increase international outreach and visibility, as well as enhance teaching and research capacities, and promote a more active role of universities in knowledge transfer.

Of course, given the rich diversity of higher education in Europe together with the large degree of autonomy enjoyed by many higher education institutions, there is no single approach to internationalisation. It involves all levels of university life and has to be adapted to suit each institution’s specific profile.

If Europe is to remain a highly attractive destination for internationally mobile students, as well as a valued partner for international academic cooperation against the rising backdrop of new regional higher education hubs, it must reinforce its efforts to promote global awareness of the high quality and the rich cultural and linguistic diversity of its universities.

Over the coming months we will be looking closely at all of the issues mentioned and will be responding to the Commission’s forthcoming communication on the internationalisation of higher education On the basis of the Commission communication we will draft a set of conclusions on the globalisation of higher education for adoption by ministers in November.

I suppose the issue relates to your recent work done in the field, namely – the report of 2011 on Modernising Europe’s higher education systems (Rapporteur: Laszlo Tokes), therefore I would be most interested to hear today your views on this topic.

Our second priority is leadership in education.
I am sure that many of you would agree that effective school leadership is a strong determinant of quality and efficiency in education and thus - an important factor in achieving educational success.

Yet it is true to say that at the Council level there has never been a specific initiative on this subject in its own right.

A football team can have many good players, but it takes a good couch for it to succeed. Similarly, an orchestra needs a conductor to bring out the best from each of its members. Schools are not so different. A school needs a strong leader if we want to achieve good learning outcomes.

School leadership is clearly a major factor in shaping the overall teaching and learning environment, in raising aspirations and providing support for pupils, parents and staff, and thus in fostering higher attainment levels. Some research shows that leadership accounts for 27% of the variation in student achievement across school!

It is therefore essential to ensure that school leaders have, or are able to develop, the professional and personal capacities and qualities needed to assume the increasing number of tasks with which they are confronted.

Equally important is ensuring that school leaders are not overburdened with administrative tasks and that they are able to concentrate on essential matters such as the quality of learning, the curriculum, pedagogical issues and staff performance, motivation and development.

These are among the issues which we will be putting forward for discussion in the months ahead, with a specific emphasis on leadership in general education and in vocational education and training. The outcomes of these discussions will then feed into a set of Council conclusions which we will prepare on school leadership for consideration by the Member States and adoption by the Council in November.

And again – I would appreciate to hear your comments on this matter.

Our third priority is strengthening relevance of vocational education and training and encouraging its openness. It must be open not only to young people, but to each and every one seeking to re-qualify at any moment of his or her life.

With regard to the need to ensure quality and boost employment, Europe must today focus on a number of highly relevant issues of vocational education and training. The Presidency will encourage further work on issues of vocational education and training

  1. that are important to the supply of necessary skills in the labour market,
  2. that increase inclusiveness and attractiveness of vocational education and training,
  3. that ensure access to continuing vocational education and training, and – last but not least –
  4. that emphasise the role of vocational education and guidance in tackling early school leaving.

Together with our colleagues from the Employment sector we will look for ways and means to strengthen the cooperation between the world of Education and the world of Employment in order to fulfil the Commitment of the Presidency documented in the Declaration on European Alliances for Apprenticeships, signed last week in Leipcig.

I have started my presentation with a reference to a no doubt much awaited and popular programme. I would like to finish my presentation by mentioning a new learning instrument that is gaining popularity but that still leaves many questions unanswered. It is massive open on-line courses (MOOCs), a challenge that has been brought about by the rapid development of new information technologies.

In August 2012, only four months after opening, a company providing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) registered over one million students, from nearly 200 countries! The sudden popularity of this and other forms of digital learning, coupled with university interest across Europe in expanding online content, demonstrate the impact, which this new model - and Open Educational Resources (OERs) in general - are beginning to have.
Unsurprisingly, such resources have become hot topics not only for educational researchers, but for policy-makers everywhere.
For some time now, it has been apparent that rapid technological change and increasingly easy and rapid access to the Internet, including via ever more sophisticated mobile devices, have the potential to revolutionise the way we teach and learn and to open up huge opportunities for the future.

Properly exploited, these new resources have a huge amount to offer. They can promote knowledge-sharing and intercultural communication. They can broaden access to education, since teaching and learning can take place virtually anywhere.
In their ability to reach large numbers of learners, including by creating virtual learning communities, they can increase cost-efficiency (and that is one of the priorities in education of our presidency), they can promote innovation in education and new methodologies. And they can improve the quality of learning (another important priority of ours) by offering more targeted, personalised approaches.

Of course, as with anything new, these resources pose many challenges too. Traditionalists even fear that digital learning will ultimately replace teachers!

Although this seems highly unlikely, a more plausible concern is that they might lead to greater inequality in education by making access to "live learning" the privilege of the few.

The fact is, however, that OERs exist and indeed are expanding at an exponential rate. There is therefore an urgent need for policy-makers to consider and discuss together how to manage the potential which OERs represent and to confront some of the issues they raise.

What should the policy objectives be when promoting such resources?
How can we make best use of them?
How can such resources be integrated with more traditional forms of teaching and learning?
Should they be integrated into teacher education programmes?
Is it possible to validate knowledge, skills and competences acquired on-line?
And – most importantly perhaps, how can we ensure their quality?
We feel therefore that the time is ripe for the EU education ministers to consider the opportunities and challenges, which Open Educational Resources will bring.

In its Rethinking Education package of last November the Commission announced a new initiative on “Opening-up Education” to be launched mid-2013. The Lithuanian Presidency will respond to this by organising an important policy debate among the EU education ministers in November on the many issues raised.
Your views on the matter would help me a lot to guide the discussion of the Ministers into the right direction.

Madame Chair, respected members of the committee,
These are the topics and challenges in the area of education that I would like to encourage an active debate on throughout the next six months.

I would also like to add that in implementing the programme of the presidency, we will adhere to the general principle of Lithuanian Presidency: to work for the sake of a reliable, growing and open Europe.

Thank you for your attention. Your views matter to me. Therefore - I would be very happy now to hear from you and to take your questions.

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