Slovakia meets EU2020

By Maros Korman (SRVS, ESU)

In case you are wondering, how does a small country of 5,5 million people in the geographical heart of Europe deal with European requirements, this article might answer your questions.

After Lisbon.
Following the generally accepted failure of the so called Lisbon strategy, the EU Member States reached out for a new horizon with the European Commission. Is Europe 2020 a new start or is it a mere Lisbon redress? There are separate national targets and European targets in the strategy, to be achieved by mutual cooperation of the EU governance and its member states, touching all common fields, including education.

How did Slovakia cope with the EU’s expectations in compliance with the Europe 2020 strategy? Well, let’s take a look at European Commission’s recommendations first.

You’ve done well, but...
In 2011, the European Commission’s recommendations focused on the national budget, public finances and compliance with taxation. An important recommendation touched upon education, asking for a more rapid reform process, increased quality assurance of higher education and raising the importance of higher education in relation to the market’s needs. Perhaps this was related to a very basic national quality assurance framework, comprising of the Accreditation Commission as an advisory body to the Ministry of Education and different private ranking systems. It is noteworthy, that until October 2013, every higher education institution in Slovakia had to maintain a carefully planned, tested and working internal quality assurance system. The regulation was a part of the New Year’s education law amendment and keeps people wondering, what super-institution designs, drafts, tests do put in a reliable practice for an internal quality assurance system from scratch in nine months. Plagiarism, however, is not the topic of this article. Furthermore, the European Commission also pushed for stimulating individuals and employers attending and promoting participation in lifelong learning.
The Slovak government has updated its reform and stability program according to recommendations.

What was it a year ago?
In 2012, the European Commission again reminded Slovakia about its high public finance deficit, the bad discipline of taxpayers and a low administrative capacity in relation to the social dimension. Again, the criticism pointed out the lacking quality assurance in higher education and the missing focus on learning outcomes. One of the recommendations directly charged the government on the creation of plan for a youth guarantee, especially concerning quality and importance in relation to the market. Other recommendations were concerned with the quality of public services, transparency in administration and weak social insurance.

As can be seen, it will definitely take more than a year to address the issues identified by the government and the European Commission. Another notable aspect is the strict labour market orientation of the recommendations, which is to be seen as a pattern. Education is seen as a way of improving Europe’s economy. Yes, it is that. But it is also much more than that.

What is the strategy?
The Slovak Prime Minister criticised the Lisbon strategy in 2011 stating that “Generalised goals that are difficult to measure, set by Europe, contribute to the decrease of trust towards the European project”. It is hard not to agree with those words. The crucial question is, how are the Europe 2020 goals set? Are they concrete and measurable? Do they address weak points in sufficient detail?

The goals, set by the new strategy that are directly linked to education, are as follows:
1. Employment
o 75 per cent of 20 to 64 year-olds to be employed
2. Research and development / innovation
o 3 per cent of the EU's GDP (public and private combined) to be invested in research and development/innovation
3. Education
o Reducing school drop-out rates below 10 per cent
o At least 40 per cent of 30 to 34–year-olds completing third level education

These European targets have been subsequently translated into national targets, some of them of the same value, some of them different, adjusted to the national context.

How do we meet the criteria?
Education: Tertiary education attainment has risen by 1,6 per cent since Europe 2020 was implemented, totalling to 23,7 per cent in 2012. In order to meet the EU’s target (which is the same as the national target in this case), Slovaks have to increase tertiary education attainment by 16,3 per cent in the next eight years. To assume whether this bold goal is even possible, let us turn back and get a glimpse at how this situation was eight years ago. In 2005, Slovakia had 14.3 per cent tertiary education attainment, which means that over the last eight years, they have managed to increase this factor by 9,4 per cent. Hoping for 16,3 per cent increase in the upcoming eight years means hoping for a miracle.

A low dropout rate from education is one of the strong points of the country. With 5,3 per cent children leaving school at an early age, Slovakia is far better off than the European average, 12,8 per cent, and should comply with the national target set to 6 per cent easily, even though last two years show an increase in undergrad dropouts.

Employment rate: Employment rate for the age group from 20 to 64 currently stands at 65,1 per cent. That means a 0,6 per cent increase since 2005. The question is, whether Slovakia reaches optimistic 72 per cent (national target) or even the European target of 75 per cent.

Research and development: Investment in research and development in Slovakia is far beyond the European standard. Current investment is 0,65 per cent GDP and the national target in eight years is 1 per cent GDP. It was 0,51 per cent in 2005 in comparison.

Well done?
The conclusions of whether Europe 2020 will be more successful than its predecessor are at this moment rather an issue of faith, than mere calculations. Still, as you can see, some goals are a bit bolder than seems reasonable. As we say in Slovakia, the European Commission is chopping high. Let us hope for the best together, just as you hopefully enjoyed this simple national assessment. In case you want to see how your country is doing, make sure you visit http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/europe-2020-in-your-country/(external link) .