UK gets average marks in education performance

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The UK's performance in most areas of education and training is around the EU average, show European Commission reports on the progress of European education reforms. However, UK public investment in education as a percentage of GDP has grown significantly since 2000 and is now above EU average.

The number of students in higher education in the UK is relatively high compared to other European countries, and it has increased considerably since 2000. The UK also performs well, with participation rates more than twice the EU average, on adult participation in lifelong learning. However, growth in the number of maths, science and technology (MST) graduates was below EU average.

Overall, the findings of the Commission's progress reports show that despite a general improvement in education and training performance in the EU, progress is too slow. This means that the majority of the reform targets set for 2010 will not be reached. The economic downturn underlines the urgency of reform and continuous targeted investment in education and training systems to meet core economic and social challenges.

European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, Maroš Šefčovič, said: “Education reforms in the EU have come a long way but we must not lose momentum now. In particular, we need more and better investment in education and training so that Europeans are better prepared to find jobs, and to increase our ability to innovate in the long term.”

More on the reports:

1. Commission Progress report towards the Lisbon Objectives in Education and Training - Indicators and Benchmarks 2009

This annual report looks at member states' progress towards five key benchmarks in education and training for 2010.

Although progress was achieved, four of the five 2010 benchmarks for education and training are not likely to be met. Only the benchmark on increasing the number of graduates in maths, science and technology was reached. Three benchmarks were not reached, despite the progress made: adults' participation in lifelong learning, reduction in the share of early school leavers, and increase the numbers of young people completing upper secondary education. One benchmark even deteriorated since 2000: the performance in the reading ability of 15 year-olds.

On the positive side, the number of very young children in education has risen, as well as the overall participation in initial education and the education levels of EU citizens in general. The number of working age adults (aged 25 – 64) with low educational attainment has fallen by more than one million per year since 2000. Nevertheless, this still accounts for 77 million adults, or close to 30 % for the EU as a whole.

Other areas where progress has been achieved include language learning in schools and the mobility of students in tertiary education, which has increased by more than 50 % since 2000.

2. Draft 2010 joint progress report on the implementation of the work programme "Education and Training 2010"

This biennial report, based on national contributions and jointly adopted by the Education Council and the Commission, assesses overall progress and sets out priorities for the future of co-operation in the area of education and training. The focus of this joint report is on the provision of key competences at all levels of education and training. Main findings include:

Many countries are using the European framework for key competences as a reference point in school reform. While good progress has been made in adapting school curricula, there is still much to be done to support teachers’ competence development, to update assessment methods, and to introduce new ways of organising learning. The major challenge is to ensure that all learners benefit from innovative methodologies, including the disadvantaged and those in vocational education and training, adult learning and higher education.

Other challenges include: implementing lifelong learning, increasing mobility, making education and training more open and relevant to the needs of the labour market and society. Particular attention should be given to establishing partnerships between the worlds of education and training, and of work.

The investment per student has increased since 2000 at all educational levels. However, growth of spending per student in tertiary education was slower than elsewhere. The EU Member States would need to invest on average around 10 000 euros more per student per year in higher education to reach the levels of the US (almost 200 billion euro more a year). The difference is accounted for mainly by the levels of private investment in higher education institutions in the US.

What happens next?

The Joint Report will be presented to the Education Council on 26 November 2009, in preparation for its formal adoption by the Education Council in February 2010. The key messages will serve as inputs into the debate on the future EU strategy for growth and jobs at the Spring European Council 2010.