On the occasion of the Ger-man Presidency of the EU Council, the General Assembly of DVV, held on 19 June 2007 in Leverkusen, adopted the following declaration.

Towards the European Adult Education Action Plan “It is always a good time to learn”

Since the German Adult Education Association (DVV) was founded, internationalism and openness towards Europe have been a major component of the educational activities of the 1000 German Volkshochschulen (community adult education centres) and their Land associations. Over the decades, DVV position papers have emphasised the need for adult education to make a commitment to a united, peaceful Europe and to equitable access to education for its citizens.

The Volkshochschulen are committed today in a wide variety of ways to the European idea and to adult education that overcomes boundaries. This is evident in the transnational projects, the educational events on European policy – such as the 100 and more action days and Europe days held in recent years – the intercultural education, the widespread provision for migrants, the more than three million people taking part each year in languages courses, and the efforts made to introduce Europe-wide validation of educational competencies and certificates through such schemes as the Common European Reference Framework for Languages or the work being done jointly to draw up the European Qualifications Framework.

It is, and has been, important to us to look beyond the borders of the EU. Over the last twenty years, DVV International has been at the forefront of bringing adult education in Central and Eastern Europe up to European standards, supporting partners in those countries in their difficult process of transition. One important aspect of our present involvement is dialogue and support for partners in the countries of the new European Neighbourhood Policy, such as Russia, Ukraine, the Caucasus and the southern Mediterranean.

The DVV therefore expressly welcomes the intense efforts being made by the EU to strengthen adult education through its policy of promoting lifelong learning, which began with the Lisbon Strategy and the 2001 Commission Communication “Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality”. It is a pleasing precedent that adult education is expressly seen as a major pillar of the education system in its own right. This is emphasised in the 2006 Commission Communication, “Adult education. It is never too late to learn”, which the DVV and its European partners played a crucial part in drafting through active membership of the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA).

We expect national education policy at Federal, Land and local level to recognise the value of a nationwide professional adult education system that has been so heavily stressed by the EU, and to strengthen and expand continuing education as a fourth pillar of the education system.

Analysis of the basic arguments set out in “Adult education. It is never too late to learn” shows that obstacles to access to education can only be removed if there is wide-ranging, local, affordable provision, such as that which has been provided for decades in a tried and tested way by the German Volkshoch schulen. However, if we are not to continue to exclude socially disadvantaged groups of the population and if we are to increase participation in continuing education as a whole, it is vital that state agencies accept public responsibility for guaranteeing the infrastructure. Germany, with annual spending on education of just 4 per cent of GDP, is in third to bottom place among EU countries (2004), and the rate of participation in initial and continuing training, 8.2 per cent, is well below the EU average of 11 per cent: there is therefore a considerable need to catch up.

We expect the Federal Government, the Laender and local government to increase spending on education and training radically, so that Germany compares more favourably with other European countries. In order to integrate the educationally disadvantaged, we again call for an investment programme to reduce educational disadvantage based on the proposal that we put forward in 2004, INNOVINT (Innovation through Integration).

Europe faces huge demographic challenges. Continuing education will have a crucial role to play in improving the integration of immigrants, ensuring that adults have a stake in the labour market, increasing social integration and enabling older people to manage their lives actively and wisely.

We expect the Federal and Land Governments to develop a national plan of work for adult education so that it meets the requirements of general and vocational continuing education, and takes particular account of the needs of those who are alienated from education, of older people and of migrants.

The arguments put forward by the EU also include the need to improve quality and professionalism in continuing education. Transparency and mobility in Europe are to be enhanced through awareness of its benefits and of how it can be used, of obstacles to participation, and of take-up of learning and counselling provision, and through Europe-wide comparability of skills and knowledge acquired. The EU can and must play a particular role in the validation and mutual recognition of competencies acquired through non-formal learning. In the context of the Common European Reference Framework, the European languages portfolio and Europass, the Volkshochschulen have shown that they can help to increase transparency and the spread of qualifications recognised Europe-wide. They can also contribute their experience and active cooperation to the development of the European Qualifications Framework.

The DVV therefore welcomes the initiative by the Federal and Land Governments to draw up a National Qualifications Framework in association with adult and continuing education providers.

The time has now come to follow declarations at European and national level with action. The Communication “Adult education. It is never too late to learn” is to be turned into the adult education action plan: “It is always a good time to learn”. The DVV welcomes this intention and stresses its willingness to play a constructive part in the consultation process.

In the context of the German Presidency of the EU Council, and in order to respond more effectively to European responsibility, we would welcome it if Federal, Land and local governments were to take up the suggestions made by the EU Commission, and we shall work with them to implement the European adult education action plan at national level.

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