I am taking the opportunity of this blog post to reflect on what I have learned from my involvement in European projects.
I have been active in a number of European projects. Presently I am active in a five partner two year project DIMA (Cyprus, Ireland, Slovenia, Belgium, and Slovakia) developing a toolkit for management and evaluation of adult education. This builds on REGIONAL (http://www.regionalproject.eu Comparative Analysis of Regional Policies for Adult Learning), a two year six partner, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Slovakia, Serbia, project that developed a toolkit for adult learning policy makers. Prior to that I was a member of a two year six partner, Italy, Spain, Italy/Sicily, Ireland, Slovakia, EKWALS (Enhancing Knowledge Workers’ Adult Learning Solutionshttp://www.ekwalslearningsolutions.com/) project looking at adult learning solutions for aging knowledge workers. When I look at it now there is a pattern in the topics and the groups.
All the projects involve face to face meetings, regular virtual/internet communication, work packages with required deliverables according to a strict calendar, dissemination of findings and application/exploitation of outcomes. Each project has strict project management and quality assurance. One partner is overall manager and each work package is headed up by one of the partners.
Securing a project is the result of at least 18 months of preparatory work but the process is very competitive ranging from 9% to 1% success rate. The application form is detailed and demanding and all costs are scrutinised and must be justified. Costs are also set by the European Commission according to salary rates, travel rates and costs in each individual country. Project costings must follow these set rates. Accountability is onerous and a range of reporting tools are used to check accurate spending according to budgets. There are severe penalties for not following the agreed budgets and for not delivering project outputs on time and as specified.
However the learning from these projects is immense especially in our time of strife, migration and change. The following are what I have learned:
- The European Union is made up of a heterogeneous mix of cultures and people with difficult histories, perspectives and ambitions.
- Project achievements are always limited because project outcome are the result of co-operation and compromise.
- There is significant learning about other countries, cultures and ways of doing things during a project.
- Projects work primarily because of relationships built up during the project.
- These projects have bigger purpose. European projects are part of a European Union peace building strategy.
- The creative possibility of a wide range of culturally diverse partners expands our horizon of opportunity but also challenges our own cultural comfort.
All ‘people’ related projects fall under the seven year Erasmus+ programme (2014-2020) http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/index_en.htm. The Erasmus+ programme aims to boost skills and employability in the EU countries, as well as modernising Education, Training, and Youth work. The Erasmus+ programme is a combination of the Leonardo di Vinci, Grundtvig, Comenius, Erasmus, Jean Monet, and Transversal programmes and has a budget of €14.7 billion (40% increase on the last programme). Erasmus+ will provide opportunities for over 4 million Europeans to study, train, gain work experience and volunteer abroad, will support transnational partnerships among education, training, and youth institutions. Further Erasmus+ will foster cooperation among partners and bridge the worlds of Education and work in order to tackle the skills gaps in Europe.
When I visited the European Union Historical Exhibition in Brussels I realised the purpose of European projects. I realised that whatever the cost of peace the cost of war is unthinkable. This fact could easily be lost to my generation and younger generations because we have never experienced war. Those who inspired the EEC and now the EU knew that later generations would forget.
Rural communities in particular can be affected by change, disadvantage and skill/knowledge gaps. Rural communities should immerse themselves in the Erasmus+ programme. MEPs are great sources of information on Erasmus+ programmes. Also in Ireland Léargas (http://www.leargas.ie/), established in 1986, supports international exchange and collaboration mainly through the medium of European Commission-funded education and training programmes such as Erasmus+.
Michael Kenny, Lecturer, Maynooth University, Board member Irish Rural Link