The immediate motivation for European cooperation in education after the Second World War was to guarantee Europe would never suffer again from hunger and war. The Council of Europe thus has been addressing human rights, education, democratic citizenship, intercultural dialogue and multilingualism since 1949. As education is the responsibility of national member states, general education experienced little attention and funding from a European level. Even today, article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) only grants the European Union (EU) a complementary competence, allowing the EU to gather and exchange information and share good policy practices in the framework of the so-called Open Method of Coordination (OMC).
Developments in Vocational Education and Training (VET)
EIt was Vocational Education and Training (VET) that gained a prominent place already in the Treaty of Rome (1957), since it had to educate and train Europe's qualified workforce to boost the economy. European cooperation in VET was always in the centre of active European employment and broader economic policies and backed in legislative and institutional terms with an Advisory Council for VET (ACVET) (1963), ten directives on the development of a common VET-policy (1963), the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) in Thessaloniki (1975), directives on professional qualifications (1988) and the European Training Foundation (ETF) in Torino (1990). Today, article 166 of the TFEU grants the EU an active VET-policy responsibility, and the EU actively implements initiatives and instruments in European VET via the so-called Copenhagen Process (since 2003). These initiatives and instruments concern issues like quality assurance, recognition of qualifications and more mobility in VET. Since 2010, the benefits of dual VET systems in equipping students with relevant skills for the labour market has been widely recognised by the EC and in general throughout Europe, leading to a series of debates and European initiatives on VET.
Developments in higher education and start of European programmes
Transnational learning and teaching mobility was and is seen as the major means providing the competences for European workers needed on the international labour market. The EU launched the Erasmus Programme for Higher Education (1987), followed by the Leonardo da Vinci Programme for VET and the Comenius Programme for Primary and Secondary Education (1995) and Grundtvig for Adult Education (2000). General education for the first time entered the European treaties in the Treaty of Maastricht (1993) also leading towards the establishment of the Directorate-General for Education and Culture (EAC) within the EC in 1994. The panic concerning the position of European higher education in the world, and the mistrust vis-à-vis the EC amongst national ministers of higher education led to the launch of the inter-ministerial Bologna-process (1999) directed towards realising a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by 2010. By that year, 47 European countries from Russia to Iceland had signed to this process reforming European higher education along e.g. a three-degree system (bachelor, master and PhD) or the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). Funding instruments, like Erasmus, Leonardo da Vinci, Comenius and Grundtvig were all grouped under the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP) from 2007 to 2013. As of 1 January 2014, the LLP was replaced by the European Programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport (Erasmus+).
Education at heart of European policy
The biggest impact on European cooperation in education happened in 2000: first, the EU launched the Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs, making education an important piece of competitiveness policies. The overall policy goals were lifelong learning, including adult education and non-formal and informal learning, increased transparency, as well as upgrading the qualification level of the sitting European workforce in order to cope both with the technological revolution and with the democratic changes. Second, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the first results of the Programme for the International Student Assessment (PISA) on the qualifications of 15-year old pupils. PISA not only dismantled seemingly good reputations of national education systems, but initiated indicator alignment, data collection, monitoring of progress and setting benchmarks e.g. through the Education and Training 2020 (ET 2020) cooperation framework.
The Lisbon strategy was in 2010 replaced by the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, this time even more placing education at the heart of the EU's competitiveness agenda. Two of the five headline targets of Europe 2020 are directly linked to education: by 2020, the school drop-out rate should fall below 10% and at least 40% of 30-34 year-olds should be completing higher education. Though not directly linked to education, the target of reaching an employment rate of 75% for the 20-64 year-olds of course also touches upon education. Europe's 2020 education objectives are detailed in two of the seven flagship initiatives that support the realisation of the strategy: Youth on the Move and An Agenda for new skills and jobs. Youth on the Move is all about improving young people's education, mobility and employability. An Agenda for new skills and jobs focuses, as the name indicates, on skills development, i.e. equipping people with the right skills for tomorrow's labour market.