EU sets sights on vigour in learning

October 8, 2004

The European Commissioner-designate for education and culture has pledged that the incoming Commission will launch a lifelong learning initiative to take effect from 2007.

At a European Parliament hearing this week to determine his suitability for the portfolio, Jan Figel told MEPs that this would be part of efforts to bring more dynamism to education in the European Union.

It would be included in medium-term commission spending plans, now under discussion and closely linked to the Lisbon Process, intended to make the EU the world's most competitive economy by 2010.

Mr Figel warned: "If we don't improve our performance under the Lisbon Process, it's clear that we shall all fail."

Jose Manuel Barroso, incoming EU president, has announced that the process would be central to his work over the next five years. The Slovak former diplomat promised a "great debate" next year about ways to inject greater vigour into EU education, especially in improving links between universities and industry.

Mr Barroso said he would build on the education policies of the Prodi Commission, which leaves office on November 1 - notably by involving commission officials in plans to improve the recognition of diplomas and skills and to make more investment in education.

Mr Figel told MEPs he would give more priority to the culture portfolio than his predecessor, Viviane Reding. Also, for the first time, multilingualism will be added to commission responsibilities. Mr Figel said that, ideally, every child should be taught two languages in addition to the mother tongue. To this end, he said 2007 would be the Year of Dialogue between Cultures.

Responding to criticism that many students who had won Erasmus Programme places could not afford to take them up, Mr Figel said the Erasmus grants should be increased from €150 (£102) a month to €250.

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