Speech Vassiliou: the European Training Foundation – 20 years of making political vision a reality
[Check Against Delivery]
Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
The European Training Foundation - 20 years of making political vision a reality
European Training Foundation
Turin, 26 September 2014
Dear Madlen, Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues,
I am delighted to be with you on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the European Training Foundation (ETF).
Anniversaries are usually a good opportunity to look back and take stock of achievements and to use them as a baseline for "creating the future".
And I am excited to go through this exercise together with you today.
Back in 1994, the Agency started mainly as an EU body aimed at supporting the EU enlargement process by providing training and advice to the then candidate countries; one of them was my own country, Cyprus. Today the ETF provides crucial support to the external dimension of the EU policies in the field of Human Capital Development and notably in VET in 30 countries from the EU Neighbourhood, both East and South.
Policy-wise, a lot has happened in the intervening years. The Member States enhanced their cooperation in VET, first with the Copenhagen Process, and then after 2010 with the Bruges Process. They committed themselves to learning from one another in more than 22 areas (the so called Short Term deliverables, which will be reported on in a couple of days in Thessaloniki, with the participation of ETF and the partner countries from the Enlargement region).
The EU governments are developing common tools and principles, amongst them the European CV, the European Qualification Framework, approaches for transfer of credits, quality assurance framework, validation of non-formal and informal learning. Some are more successful than others; but they all signal a strong will on the part of European countries to work together in this field and to reap full benefit from the common space that the European Union provides to learn and to work in. Over the last two years further initiatives have been launched, such as the European Alliance for Apprenticeships or are in preparation like the European Area for Skills and Qualifications.
All these important developments and initiatives have been relayed to our partner countries in the Enlargement and Neighbourhood regions through the expertise, the field operations and the dissemination channels of the ETF. In this respect the ETF has been more than just a centre of expertise: it has become in turn a mediator, an adviser, a communicator and even an enabler of policy developments and reforms.
At the same time, EU countries also receive valuable feedback from the ETF's work on VET systems and priorities. This helps them to identify potential for further improvements, to expand beyond regional and national borders, and to cooperate with committed partners abroad.
In fact, it is largely thanks to the contribution of the ETF that EU cooperation with partner countries is so fruitful and so much appreciated by both sides.
Let me mention some examples of this valuable contribution:
-The ETF has made a meaningful and visible contribution to the modernisation of VET policy in its partner countries. In particular, it has supported countries in an evidence-based approach in policy making and it has raised awareness about the need to involve social partners and the world of work to make VET more responsive to the needs of the labour market; the Torino process is a good example of this contribution, which of course myself and my cabinet have supported all the way. Some of you may recall that the head of my cabinet took part in the Turin conference back in 2011, the Policy Leaders Forum in Amman in 2012 and I attended the Policy Leaders Forum in Marseille in 2013.
-Important work is being done on qualifications and qualifications frameworks, based on learning outcomes. The ETF contributes to events, peer learning activities and platforms for dissemination and provides links between the EQF and work on international qualifications.
-The ETF has developed a vision that goes beyond VET and encompasses other related sectors in a lifelong learning perspective: labour market policies, migration issues, entrepreneurship, SME (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) development.
Of course, something else that happened in the past 20 years is that Europe, its Neighbourhood and the whole world have undergone profound changes. Our markets, societies and policies are more interconnected and interdependent than 20 years ago; technologies and communications are changing jobs; demographic trends, migration and the economic crisis present as many challenges to our labour markets and social policies. The issue of matching skills to labour market needs has acquired new urgency. Looking ahead, VET, as indeed the whole education system, needs to perform better and more effectively. VET and higher education for excellence and jobs, especially for the young; skills and qualifications for transparency and mobility; lifelong learning for coping with technological, demographic and societal changes - these are priorities for our future work in the EU and with the partner countries.
Today’s challenges have created a strong competition among organisations which are active in the field of human capital development. ETF is not alone in this field. We need to master our collective expertise, the lessons we have learnt, the analysis and strategies we have developed so that we can help Member States and partner countries to achieve their reform objectives.
Your role is crucial. You enjoy wholehearted support and recognition from EU institutions and services and - very important - the trust of our partner countries. I understand that this support, has often been scattered between different services. This needs to be more mainstreamed and coherent. From your side you need to build the capacity to accommodate this support without risking the profile of ETF as a place not of experts but of expertise.
Let me now turn to how you can, together with the relevant DG in Brussels, address those challenges and ensure that your work has the desired impact:
-At the level of support for strategic planning and reform development in the partner countries, we appreciate enormously the huge contribution of the ETF in terms of policy analysis and recommendations, capacity building and policy learning. Almost all the strategic, legislative and institutional frameworks of the ETF partner countries have at some point been the object of consultation with ETF experts.
-Now the time has come to support policy implementation to turn political visions, recommendations and action points into a reality. Most of them have been developed with the involvement of ETF: this means that the Foundation is in the best position to support their operational phases. The work that the ETF is carrying out on qualifications and qualification frameworks; its support for enhanced social partnership in VET governance and provision are good examples in this respect. There is much more to be done: improve VET quality, labour market relevance and contribution to creating jobs; make entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurship itself a reality; introduce transparent and modern qualifications based on outcomes and standards; contribute to the skills dimension of migration and, last but not least, support teachers and trainers in VET in contributing to this Agenda.
All this can be implemented through building the capacities of stakeholders, supporting local implementation actors and bodies; developing concrete operational or methodological tools; support monitoring to adjust development etc.
-I am certain that each one of you wants to reap the fruits of his/her work. Imagine how much the citizens of the partner countries are in need to also taste the fruits of your work. This is what implementation is all about. You need to build up synergies and cooperations to make sure that the outcome of our work reaches the citizens. EU programmes, such as Erasmus+ and external action programmes can also benefit from the co-shaping role of ETF, as was demonstrated in the past.
Tackling these challenging tasks requires speaking with one voice to neighbouring countries and international partners, in order to ensure complementarity of action, achieve sustainable impact and make EU efforts and support more visible and recognised. In that respect, the ETF contribution to the EU policy agenda will be, once again, of crucial importance.
Ladies and gentlemen,
What I have described earlier is how others, in particular us in the European Commission, see the role of ETF. I understand that this is not always matching your own perception of what ETF is really doing. It is important though for your institutional planning, development and capacity to keep sight this “dual” image of ETF. Afterall, ETF’s strength lies in its people not only as individulas but as a team, in your competences, dedication and energy.
I would like to conclude by expressing my full appreciation and that of my colleagues from DG Education and Culture, for our good cooperation and its valuable contribution to the EU priorities in education and training. I take this opportunity to convey also the best wishes of EAC colleagues to all those who have worked in the ETF over the past 20 years: the staff and the directors, and especially Ms Serban. As we celebrate the ETF's 20th anniversary, I - and the Commission - wish you to continue with the same ambition, commitment and success that have made the ETF the great institution it is today.
Thank you for your attention.