Friend of Socrates and da Vinci;People;Profile;Hywel Ceri Jones

7th May 1999 at 01:00
Many EU education policies of the past two decades owe much to Hywel Ceri Jones. Jane Marshall reports

By the Schuman roundabout in Brussels, the four-pronged Berlaymont building, deserted in the early 1990s by the European Commission, stands wrapped in its shroud as it undergoes asbestos removal.

Across the road, in the offices of the European Policy Centre, Hywel Ceri Jones looks back on a quarter century spent promoting and implementing European educational policies and programmes.

He is looking forward to a future in which he hopes to help steer a newly-independent Wales into the European Union, but says he was rather surprised to be awarded the CMG "for services in Europe" in the last New Year's Honours (Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George - sometimes referred to as Call Me God).

His contribution to education in the European Union is immense and undeniable. "He really piloted the framework of the EC's education programmes, Erasmus and the rest - driving them through," says John Palmer, former Guardian correspondent and now a director of the European Policy Centre.Jones joined the commission in 1973 when Britain entered the community, to be head of DGXII, the department for education and youth policies. This was a challenge, since the Treaty of Rome did not include education, and educational initiatives had to be fitted in under vocational training, which the original six member countries regarded as strictly related to employment policy.

"It was great to be here at the beginning; I was the first head of education, and fortunate to have Ralf Dahrendorf (as commissioner). He had a huge understanding of education and culture. It was not an easy period - there were lots of debates about whether education should be involved," recalls Jones.

In 1976 they won a crucial commitment from ministers to a programme with more than 20 themes. Under Jones's direction a stream of European educational initiatives were launched.

They included Transition, which concerned training for young, especially unqualified, school-leavers; Comett, a technological training partnership scheme for universities and industry; and the Youth Exchange Scheme, YES for Europe, for 16 to-25-year-olds. (Jones enjoys making up acronyms.) Above all there was Erasmus, the European Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, which during its 12 years has enabled half a million EU students to study abroad. Today Erasmus is subsumed into Socrates, one of two current major EU educational programmes, which also includes Comenius for school partnerships, Lingua for developing competence in languages and the information service Eurydice. The other is the Leonardo da Vinci vocational training programme. But now, after the crisis surrounding the disgraced last commissioner, former French prime minister Edith Cresson, and her management of Leonardo, Jones believes it "might be in a hiatus".

Jones was born in Neath, South Wales, in 1937. He studied French at Aberystwyth University, where he also took a teaching diploma. He became president of the students' union - "a decisive influence on the rest of my life, getting into the political-administrative circle," he says. Then came administrative posts at the then new University of Sussex, including deputy director of the Centre for Educational Technology and Curriculum Development. He was on the team that created the Open University andthe vice-chancellor Asa Briggs encouraged him to take the Brussels road. He held several senior posts at the European Commission, culminating in becoming acting director-general for social and employment policy. In addition to the success of Erasmus and the negotiations over education in the Maastricht Treaty, he cites with pride his achievement 10 years ago, when the Berlin Wall came down. "I was given six weeks to present two proposals on education and training which would build bridges with the countries that had been freed," he says.

The acronym-hunter went into top gear. "The Trans-European Mobility Programme for European Studies (Tempest) was fast-tracked through in only five months," he says.

Now retired from the commission, he hopes his next move will combine Brussels with a return home to Wales, guiding the fledgling Assembly into its new home in Europe. He is ideally qualified.

As well as 26 years' European experience, since last year he has been both a senior social policy adviser and European adviser to the Secretary of State for Wales.

Jones is currently putting together proposals for EU funding for West Wales and the Valleys and spends a lot of time commuting between Brussels, Wales and London. He hopes Wales will set up an education and training system which, on the Danish model, could serve other countries and attract overseas students.

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