Neil Munro reports from Brussels where Scottish politicians and professionals spent last week raising the national profile
A SENIOR European Commission official has declared that the EU must strengthen its involvement in education, which has hitherto been a jealously guarded province of national governments.
Anders Hingel, the Commission's head of education policy, says responsibilities for employment and social policy will inevitably lead it to take a closer interest in both the content and structure of education in member states.
European governments already sanction considerable co-operation in education and, Mr Hingel believed, any extension of the Commission's role would be entirely within the EU treaties. The new rules for the European Social Fund will permit expenditure on educational projects for the first time, not just training programmes, he pointed out.
Mr Hingel's remarkably expansionist views will come as a surprise to Sam Galbraith, Scotland's Children and Education Minister, who left a meeting last month of his European colleagues in Finland convinced that there were to be no "pan-European" education policies and that education would remain a subsidiary matter for individual countries.
But Mr Hingel, a Dane, told the Scottish seminar in Brussels last week that it would be impossible for the Commission to keep out of education because the Amsterdam Treaty committed all EU states to making young people more employable. This required them to improve the quality of education and reduce "school failure".
The Commission estimates that 15 million "marginalised" young people throughout the EU leave school without qualifications. It has already begun to tackle areas of social exclusion by setting up 13 "second-chance" pilot schools for 1,500 disaffected youngsters, including one in Leeds.
Lifelong learning is also seen as an essential part of this offensive, Mr Hingel said, and from next year the Commission will begin reporting on the effectiveness of lifelong learning policies in each member state.
He also revealed that last Wednesday the Commission finished drawing up 16 key indicators in an attempt to define quality of education. The list covers basic attainment but also measures such as the amount of money spent on education in each EU country and the number of computers per school.
The Council of Ministers will consider the performance indicators on November 26 and, if they are approved, the Commission will report on the quality of education in each country from next year using these criteria.