Education International
Education International

European citizens’ initiative defends education spending

published 16 December 2013 updated 17 December 2013

EI has welcomed a European Citizens’ Initiative calling on governments not to count education spending as part of the deficit. The initiative proposes to “exclude from the calculation of each country's public spending deficit, that part of Government spending for education that is lower than the last five-year Eurozone average”.

This initiative allows one million EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal for a topic they believe is important for improving the European citizens’ life and ensuring a better future for younger generations.

Education is worth any cost!

Its objectives are to:

·Combat inequality by providing equal opportunities for education and training to all young people in Europe.

·Ensure adequate and appropriate infrastructures and tools for high quality education in Europe in times of crisis.

·Enhance and safeguard growth, development and democratic institutions; ensure the employability of younger generations through investment in education.

·Support European policy Horizon 2020.

Since 2009, strict austerity programmes have been applied across Europe in order to consolidate public spending. However, international experts and organisations are starting to question the economic effectiveness of austerity measures and the root causes of the crisis. The short- and long-term negative effects of the austerity measures on democratic processes and social rights standards have also come in for criticism.

In 2011 and 2012, cuts in education budgets were made in 20 countries for which data is available. Cuts of more than five per cent were made in Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, the United Kingdom (Wales) and Croatia. Decreases of between one and five per cent were implemented in the French Community of Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, France, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Scotland.

Recession is difficult for young people, but it is even tougher for less educated youths than for those with good education. International data has shown that different educational levels have produced strong inequalities in labour market outcomes both within this generation of young people and between generations: young people have been significantly more affected by the crisis, and this impact is even stronger for lower-skilled youth. This underscores the importance of education as a long-term personal and social investment.

Education spend should be protected

This European Citizens’ Initiative highlights that the primary role of education is its contribution to longer-term economic growth. To ensure that recession does not have a negative impact on education, they explain, a minimum expenditure on education should be off the fiscal balance sheet (e.g., through special EU loans/grants). It is reasonable to allow annual spending up to five per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the last pre-recession year, or the country’s actual spending in the same year, whichever is higher. This maintains the standards in advanced countries and encourages growth in the ones below the average. The budget increase should be linked to structural reforms and research and development investments. Each country has set qualitative and quantitative goals within EU policy 2020 that should be respected in order for Europe to become more competitive.

A consequence of the second role of education is that the best time to increase educational attainment, from a social point of view, is recession. Education is an investment: the main social cost of this investment is the foregone output of the student. The return is higher productivity and lower unemployment.

Smart growth policy need, including focus on education

As the Education at a Glance 2013 report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) points out, investing in education always pays off in the long run and Member States cannot afford to forget this when it comes to allocating public budgets. More than half of the GDP growth in OECD countries over the past decade is related to labour-income growth among workers with higher education.

Education an investment

“Economic crises come and go but young people get just one chance to learn the skills that will get them a job and help them embark on a successful career,” said the Nobel Laureate Economist, Christopher Pissarides, Regius Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics. “Cutting down on education investments because of a temporary economic crisis is short-sighted. It could destroy the lives of a whole generation of young people. Education spending is an investment in our future and should not be part of the government’s fiscal balance.”

EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen said EI strongly agrees with the spirit of this citizen initiative. “Education costs should not be considered as spending,” he said. “Education is an investment in the healthy and sustainable future!”

EI is heavily promoting the need to publicly invest in quality education at all levels, from pre-school to higher education, he added.

You can sign up to this European citizens’ initiative here

More information about the initiative is available here