*By David Crosier and Andrea Puhl. "Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes." Kurt Vonnegut
At the centre of Europe 2020 – the EU's main strategy for growth in the current decade – lie two European targets for education. The EU aims to increase tertiary graduation rates to at least 40 % and reduce early school leaving (ESL) rates below 10 % – despite the fact that education remains a national, rather than a European, competence. But if the European Union is not responsible for the policies that may lead to the success or failure in reaching these numbers, are the targets meaningful, or merely symbolic?
The EU's education targets can be understood as setting essential goals for a continent that has the ambition of staying competitive in an increasingly innovative and globalised world. Indeed increasing the number of higher graduates and reducing school dropouts are really rather obvious steps for any knowledge-driven economy. Yet does it really matter to overall economic development if these particular quantitative goals are achieved? A recent article in the Higher Education News suggests that the importance of these targets does not lie in their concrete realisation: “are they meant to be achieved or do they exist as almost arbitrary numbers that only give an indication of the necessity to focus on a particular policy field”. More...