EC: Balkan countries should improve their failing education systems


A common theme threads through the European Commission's recommendations for 2014-2015 to Balkan member states, issued yesterday (2 June).

It points out the high percentage of youth unemployment and poor access to quality vocational education, calling for a fuller implementation of planned and ongoing reforms in the science and education systems.

Slovenia needs to align its research, industry and smart specialisation strategies, Bulgaria still suffers from a disconnect between academia and industry, while Romania is discussing a revamp of its university management to align higher education with business needs.

SLOVENIA: streamline research and industry strategies

Slovenia should make sure its research strategy is consistent with its industrial and smart specialisation strategies, EC says, and should improve vocational training for its workers.

Like Croatia, Slovenia's youth unemployment has gotten worse - though not nearly as much.

"The situation on the labour market has worsened. Unemployment reached 10.3% in

2013 and youth unemployment climbed to 21.6% in 2013 while the proportion of young people not in employment, education or training increased by 2.1 ops between 2011 and 2013."

To fix things, Slovenia should do the following things in the coming year: "Address skills mismatches by improving the attractiveness of vocational education and training and by further developing cooperation with the relevant stakeholders in assessing labour market needs."

And, the EC adds, Slovenia should also: "Streamline priorities and ensure consistency between the 2011 Research and Innovation and the 2013 Industrial Policy Strategies with the upcoming strategies on Smart Specialisation and Transport, ensure their prompt implementation and assessment of effectiveness."

"The upcoming Smart Specialisation Strategy under the European Investment and Structural Funds for 2014-20 will provide an opportunity to focus on key measures such as creating tradable, innovative products," it says.

ROMANIA: link between business and academia remains weak

Romania should also work to "Increase the quality and access to vocational education and training, apprenticeships, tertiary education and of lifelong learning and adapt them to labour market needs", the EC says.

It suffers from incomplete education reforms, poor links between academia and industry, and little relevant vocational or lifelong learning, it says.

"Romania has a high and increasing percentage of young people not in employment, education or training (17.3% in 2013)," the EC says.

"The Education Reform of 2011, which set a long-term agenda for upgrading the quality of education at all levels, is not yet fully operational, due to insufficient financial and human resources," it says. "Following sharp decline in vocational education and training in the last twenty years, several reforms and pilot projects have been initiated in recent years but the availability of vocational education and training, its relevance to the labour market and business involvement in work-based learning and apprenticeships remains low."

"Important skills mismatches persist for tertiary graduates and the link between business and academia remains weak, as shown by a high unemployment rate and many university graduates being employed either in professions not corresponding to their training or in jobs requiring lower levels of qualification.

"Participation in lifelong learning activities continues to be among the lowest in the EU. The early school leaving rate continues to be one of the highest in the EU and is now higher than prior to 2010, affecting in particular Roma."

BULGARIA: restructuring of the university management discussed

"Unemployment levelled off in 2013, but the number of young and long-term unemployed has continued to rise. Bulgaria faces one of the highest proportions of young people who are neither in employment, education nor training, implying a severe underutilisation and underdevelopment of human capital.

"Bulgaria has still not adopted the School Education Act providing a framework for implementation of the necessary comprehensive reforms of the school system, including the modernisation of curricula and the improved training for teachers.

"There is a need to enhance the quality of vocational education and training in Bulgaria and to integrate it better into the general educational structures so as to allow for flexible pathways, reduce early school leaving and improve access to lifelong learning.

"Higher education, in turn, faces persisting challenges in responding better to labour market needs. The low standard of quality certification contributes to poor performance. A new strategy on higher education is being discussed, calling for the restructuring of university management through the direct involvement of interested stakeholders such as businesses and students, the consolidation of universities, and a performance-based approach to better align educational outputs with the demands of the labour market.

The recommendations for Bulgaria include to: "Adopt the School Education Act and pursue the reforms of vocational and higher education in order to increase the level and relevance of skills acquired at all levels, while fostering partnerships between educational institutions and business with a view to better aligning outcomes to labour market needs.

"Strengthen the quality of vocational education and training institutions and improve access to life-long learning. Step up efforts to improve access to quality inclusive pre-school and school education of disadvantaged children, in particular Roma, and implement strictly the rules linking the payment of child allowance to participation in education."

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