Education in the European Union:

Finding employment is becoming increasingly difficult in Europe. Employers are very demanding and look for staff with good qualifications and sound experience. The European Union is aware of the problem and offers training and education programmes to improve your skills, make your CV more attractive and better equip you for the labour market. In 1997 the Treaty of Amsterdam gave the Union the responsibility to" promote the development of the highest-possible level of knowledge" for the peoples of the Union" through a wide access to education and its continuous updating" .

Launched in 1995, the Socrates programme works to this effect, extending to all the Member States of the European Union and beyond. Since 1998 a number of Central and Eastern European countries, including Poland, have also participated in the scheme.

What is Socrates?

The Socrates programme applies to all types and levels of education. Among its wide range of activities it has taken over higher education student exchanges from the Erasmus programme, as well as the language studies covered by Lingua. It also covers the Comenius secondary school programme.

Mainly, the Socrates programme offers students and teachers an opportunity to study abroad and learn about life in the other countries of the Union. Since 1995, the programme has provided support to enable several hundred thousand students and teachers to spend a period of learning or teaching in another Member State. Examinations taken abroad are recognized by the university of origin, and grants may be awarded in certain circumstances. In addition, Socrates provides financial aid to encourage universities to include a European dimension in courses for students who do not participate in exchanges. Some 1,500 universities and 10,000 schools are already actively participating in the European partnerships and activities. Some 800 multilateral co-operation projects have already been launched in areas such as intercultural education, the in-service training of teachers, the use of new technologies in education, language learning and adult education. Networks for the exchange of information, experience and good practice are also being created.

Socrates also covers pre-school, primary and secondary (Comenius) education. It aims to encourage partnerships between schools in different countries of the Union for the joint study of other languages and cultures. The use of computer networks and programmes is encouraged. Socrates can also provide help for migrant children, travellers and itinerant workers and support for further training for teachers living in countries other than where they received their initial qualifications.

Another part of the programme is accessible to all levels of education. Socrates takes the activities of the former Lingua programme a stage further by developing new teaching material, offering teachers the opportunity to go on intensive courses in other Member States, establishing links between schools to improve the skills of teachers, giving future language teachers the opportunity to spend a few months in a school abroad as a Lingua assistant, and promoting exchanges of young people. Socrates also aims to promote knowledge of the less widely used and less taught languages of Europe. In addition there are many opportunities for open and distance learning (studying at home, for example) in the programme.

The Socrates programme also supports the promotion of a European dimension in adult education. It aims to promote teaching and learning about the cultures, traditions and languages of the Member States, the preparation of teaching material to bring about a better understanding of political, economic and administrative issues in the European Union, and the development of international co-operation and exchanges of experience.

Socrates closely interacts with other European programmes, notably the Leonardo da Vinci programme for vocational training and the Youth for Europe educational, cultural and social exchange programme.

Who can participate?

Socrates is open to students at all levels and in all types of education, schools at all levels, teachers, educational advisers, political decision-makers at all levels (local, regional or national), associations, organizations and societies engaged in education-related matters.

Further Information

More detailed information on the various programmes, and additional addresses, can be obtained from the Technical Assistance Offices below or from the European Commission Representations and Offices. This article was prepared with the European Commission publications" Education and Training - Tackling Unemployment" and" Socrates - Guidelines for Applicants".