Learning to make money: 21st century EU education policy

Donald Gillies

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Education was traditionally of little interest to the European Union (EU), with policy and governance solely the responsibility of individual member states. Since the Lisbon Strategy of 2000, however, EU policy and interest in education have grown considerably. Rooted in human capital theory, which sees education as an investment which later pays economic dividends for both the individual and the state, EU education policy has put its young people at the heart of its economic ambitions. Its Education and Training (ET) 2020 goals position education as a driver for the economy and so young people as the means by which desired economic growth will be achieved. Two recent developments, however, have challenged this simplistic economist model. The impact of sustained terrorist attacks across the EU in 2015 has stimulated greater interest in the social aims of education, so that EU education policy now stresses the creation of the necessary, stable social landscape without which the goal of economic growth would founder. The shock of Brexit in 2016 and the rise of populist nationalism across the EU have also triggered a renewed policy focus on education for European identity, collaboration, and community. EU policy, therefore, recognises that its economic hopes of national education systems cannot be achieved unless there is social stability and, unless its young people maintain belief in the EU itself, it will not exist at all, far less thrive. Just as education is instrumental for ultimate economic goals, so social stability and community values are seen not as intrinsic goods, but merely as the optimum basis from which economic growth can be stimulated.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages4
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


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