Original publication: September 2019
Authors: RAND Europe: Axelle Devaux, Fay Dunkerley, Nadja Koch, Michaela Bruckmayer, William Phillips, Victoria Jordan
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2ksTB4H
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This study examines possible scenarios (both aspirational and disruptive) for future developments for the education and youth sectors. It also identifies and assesses the policy implications of these scenarios. Ultimately, the study informs EU policy-makers, in particular MEPs, on policy options and their implications for the education and youth sectors in the EU, and seeks to help them prepare for the scenarios identified (both in terms of facing challenges and embracing opportunities).

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Education and youth policies are supposed to help prepare for the future of work and society. In this respect, futures studies can provide a snapshot of what the future could look like and what policy options could possibly lead/contribute to building this future.


The objective of the study is to understand current and future challenges in education and youth policy-making at the EU level, with the view to help support the work of MEPs in preparing legislature for 2019-2024.


Two main approaches were used to achieve this objective. Firstly, a literature review was undertaken to identify the policy areas of most relevance to both the current education and employment landscape and future developments in EU education and youth policies, as well as evidence of challenges and issues linked to these policy areas. These are summarised as follows:

  • Education plays a crucial in role in facilitating greater social inclusion. Yet, several challenges remain in relation to participation in education as a way to foster social inclusion.
  • If social inclusion is linked to education inclusion, it is also closely linked to employment. In spite of the progress made, youth unemployment has been one of the main issues of social and economic policies in the last decade and is likely to remain high on the agenda in the future.
  • One of the factors that can explain unemployment, at least in parts, is the gap between people’s skills and the needs of the labour market – also known as skills mismatch.
  • There were some challenges – and opportunities – associated with migration to Europe, which increased around 2015 and still persists today. These challenges and opportunities concern social, education and labour-market inclusion and are thus relevant to the context of this study.
  • Research has recently explored how “newer” forms of communication affect democratic participation. Given the role of education in preparing young people not only to find a job, but also to participate in society, the extent to which education has been preparing youth for challenges and opportunities linked to these new forms of communication should be explored.
  • In the context of higher education, we agreed to add an emerging issue that is likely to become more prominent in the future – the autonomy of higher education institutions and threats to academic freedom.

Secondly, a structured methodology was used to examine the interaction of the key drivers of the education and youth sectors with the wider social, economic and technological factors – and the uncertainty in the future development of these factors – to develop a range of future education and youth scenarios. We identified four scenarios that represent a wide spectrum of possible futures:

  • Fragmented Europe: While society and industry have embraced digitalisation, albeit at different rates across the EU, the education system is failing to prepare students for this change and workers are not able to play their role in the labour market, with bad consequences for the economy and society.
  • Aligned Europe: By 2035 technological innovation and the creation of many high-skilled jobs has led to a booming economy. Education has been at the top of the EU’s spending agenda for the past fifteen years, with investment in technology-aided personalised learning creating a model of education that is more accessible to all.
  • Cold feet Europe: Digitalisation has had a radical effect on the labour market, with fewer workers needed. While people are ready to take on the jobs of today, there is not enough demand for a skilled workforce. While digitalisation was supposed to support growth, the economic situation is not as good as expected, and society is concerned about what the future will bring.
  • Ostrich Europe: Although education funding is seen as critical, co-operation between Member States is in decline and education and labour market issues are discussed and addressed in isolation. While the economic situation might look good in the short term, and society is not particularly concerned about the future, there are clear indications that the situation is not sustainable.

Figure 1 overleaf summarises the projected evolution of each factor for the scenarios proposed.

Figure 1. Factor projections for each of the four scenarios proposed

Figure 1. Factor projections for each of the four scenarios proposed

The outcomes of both the literature review and scenarios were used to deepen the understanding of the implications for education policy-making over the next 10–15 years. The approach takes into account uncertainty in both the education and youth sector and other domains that may have an impact on the education and youth sector. In particular, the scenarios were used as a tool to test the robustness of policy options developed from the literature review.

The study considers five policy options that correspond to possible areas for development of the education and youth policy area. The combination of these policy options is what the study finds would be desirable for future development of education and youth in the EU. However, the study does not intend to present recommendations of what EU and national education authorities should do, but rather to illustrate how policy decisions play out in the different possible futures proposed. Policy options are presented in terms of potential policy priorities, which could be integrated in education and training system reforms, or take the form of a policy strategy or programme:

  • Student-centred learning and flexible pathways to ensure that all learners have access to the type of learning that suits their learning needs, and that all learners can be mobile in the education and training system at any time in their life and career.
  • Inclusive digital learning to ensure that everyone is included in the move towards digitalisation of learning, and to avoid the risk that those left behind are further excluded from work and society.
  • Targeted investment in early years to erase/limit the effects of social disadvantage as early as possible in the education and training pathway, and to avoid the perpetuation of disadvantage.
  • Focus on socio-emotional development and soft skills to prepare today’s students to be tomorrow’s workers and citizens, whatever the future brings (learning to learn, resilience, communication skills, digital navigation skills, etc.).
  • Strengthening teacher education and training to make sure teachers are ready for the challenges ahead (with the assumption that teachers are a key differentiator in the implementation of all education and training programmes).
Table 1. Policy options versus future scenarios

Table 1. Policy options versus future scenarios

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/629-204

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