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Mobility plan ready to roll

For years teachers, academics, students and employees seeking to work or study have travelled from Britain to other European countries, or vice-versa, and discovered that their qualifications, whether professional or academic, are either not recognised by the second country or considered inferior.

The European Union has now acknowledged the need to establish a European market in skills and training. Whether this will ultimately lead to a mutual recognition of qualifications is a difficult question, for some member states fear a threat to their national identity and a loss of the cultural differences that make each country different.

If Europe is to develop fully, however, it will be necessary to ensure that students and teachers can move freely and openly from one country to another, and it is for this reason that the European Parliament advocates the Europeanisation of teacher training.

In other member states of Europe, such as Luxembourg, the training of primary teachers can be significantly different from that of their secondary colleagues. While the former qualification is usually achieved after three years of non-university higher education, the latter requires up to seven years of university study. In Germany the periods of study can vary from one Land (or federal state) to another. A uniform European system would be an exciting but difficult initiative.

The European Commission and Parliament are proposing a strategy in which the need for greater information is considered paramount. This will require national institutions to gather specific information about content of courses, stating to exactly what levels people have studied, and which skills they have obtained. This information can then be made freely available to other countries.

However, the Parliament disagrees with the Commission's proposal for a formal discussion network of professionals, saying many networks already exist at a European level for debating academic and other educational matters.

The most contentious area in the plan is probably "jointly agreed adaptation of training". The current European programmes, Socrates and Leonardo already lay the foundations for much of this negotiation and it is to be hoped that with greater international co-operation and transparency this will progress without the need for more legislation.

"Achieving high quality education is one of the Union's fundamental objectives," says the commission, and few would argue with that objective in any country.

The Parliament's report on the commission document was written by a former German headteacher, Doris Pack. She highlights yet again one of the major problems for Britain, namely that the inability to speak and understand foreign languages probably continues to be one of the most serious obstacles to mobility.

Until the United Kingdom makes serious attempts to counter this obstacle, I fear it will be Britain looking in through the windows of Europe, rather than influencing affairs from the centre.

Robert Evans is MEP for London North West and Labour's European Parliamentary spokesman on education. Comments on this report would be welcomed, as soon as possible. They can be sent to him at Pavitt Hall, Union Road, Wembley, Middlesex HA0 4AU. Fax: 0181 900 9412.

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