Young bite the Euro hand that feeds them

October 17, 1997

Some of Europe's brightest students gathered in Brussels last week - and asked for more. More information about the European Commission's education and training programmes; more effort to target such programmes at disadvantaged young people; and, predictably, more money to support them.

This is what was wanted by 120 young Europeans gathering for a meeting with Edith Cresson, the commissioner for education, training, research and youth.

Red tape was just about the only thing they wanted less of, they told Mrs Cresson in a frank exchange of views during the final debate of the two-day conference.

The event had been billed as a consultation exercise on the advantages and problems with the Socrates, Leonardo and Lingua programmes, which will expire at the end of 1999, and the fourth Framework programme for research and technological development, which comes to an end in December 1998. More than 350,000 young people take part in the programmes each year.

The commission wanted to take on board the views of young people taking part, to inform discussions on the next generation of programmes, Mrs Cresson said. "These programmes are first and foremost of concern to young people. The commission needs to listen to what they have to say."

The results of a survey of the young delegates' views circulated at the meeting showed that 82 per cent of them felt their objectives for taking part in the programmes had been achieved while 83 per cent thought the experience would have a positive impact on their careers and 78 per cent felt "more European" as a result of having taken part.

Feedback from workshops held at the conference, however, was generally less positive. To begin with, the public relations potential of the conference from the commission's point of view had not escaped the notice of the bright young delegates. A two-day gathering of Europe's young elite, with all-expenses paid, first-class travel and top hotel accommodation, was just "a waste of money", they said. More time was needed to put forward considered proposals for tackling Europe's "bureaucratic monster", which was responsible for problems with transferring grants for overseas study and delays in grant payments.

Similar youth meetings could be held annually for a longer period, and the results disseminated on the Internet, Mrs Cresson suggested. But it was up to the hand-picked few taking part to take up key issues with politicians in their own countries.

"Working together with Mario Monti, European commissioner responsible for the internal market, we have submitted proposals to the member states for removing obstacles to the mobility of grant recipients and apprentices. I am counting on you to pursue this matter actively in your respective countries as well," she said.

The limitations on the commission's power to resolve many of the problems raised at the conference was a recurring theme. Mrs Cresson acknowledged a point raised by many delegates, that the programmes were largely a privilege which could only be afforded by middle-class students whose parents were prepared to cover their living costs. But her hands were tied unless the commission was given more money to spend on education programmes, she said.

Even if this were to happen, traditional higher education would not be at the top of Mrs Cresson's spending list. Giving young people the basic skills to "learn how to learn" was the priority, she said.

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