Tag Archives: Social Cohesion

Quality Education for Smart, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth

imagesThe promotion of quality education has re-emerged as an important policy objective across many countries during the past decade. For instance, the aims of Europe 2020 strategy (that was launched in 2010) were to improve the EU’s competitiveness and productivity that underpin a sustainable social market economy (EU, 2010 a,b). The strategy identified three priorities as the main pillars of this strategy:

  • Smart growth—developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation;
  • Sustainable growth—promoting a more resource efficient, greener and more competitive economy; and
  • Inclusive growth—fostering a high-employment economy delivering economic, social and territorial cohesion (Pasimeni & Pasimeni, 2015).

Significant investments have already been made across the globe to raise relevant competencies that help to improve social outcomes (e.g. social inclusion, social equity and social capital) since these are known to affect educational and labour market success.

In a similar vein, the fourth United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4) and its 10 targets represent an ambitious and universal agenda to develop better skills for better lives. Five of its 10 targets are concerned with improving the quality of education for individual children, young people and adults, and to give them better and more relevant knowledge and skills. During the last few decades; major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels; from school readiness among young children through achieving literacy and numeracy at primary school, increasing enrolment rates in schools particularly for women and girls to equipping young adults with knowledge and skills for decent work and global citizenship (UNSDG4, 2015). In this light, the SDG4’s targets are the following (UNSDG4, 2015):

Quality education

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes;

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education;

By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university;

By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship;

By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations;

By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy;

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development;

Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all;

By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries. By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing states (UNSDG4, 2015).

However, The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) the world’s most widely used global metric to measure the quality of learning outcomes, as well as its adult version, the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), underlined that although many countries may have  their children in school; only a proportion of them achieve adequate levels of proficiency by the end of lower secondary education (PISA, 2012). This finding does not augur well for economic, social and sustainable development.

Bolder efforts are required to make even greater strides to achieve the sustainable development goal of quality education for all. A centralised educational policy may help to achieve the desired outcomes. Well-laid out curricula are capable of successfully developing the full potential of lifelong learners. In addition, the government’s policies of taxation and redistribution of income may also help to counteract inequalities in some segments of society.

The provision of quality education introduces certain mechanisms that equip people with relevant knowledge and skills that they need for today’s labour market. Active employment policies are required to help unemployed people find work. The overall objective of the employability programmes is the reintegration of jobseekers and the inactive individuals into the labour market as well as the provision of assistance to employed persons to secure and advance in their job prospects.



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Better Access to Finance for European Enterprises

Although there has been substantial research on enterprises; information on their financing needs is quite limited. Small business entities are often viewed by financial institutions as relatively risky. In this light, the European Union (EU) continues to reaffirm its support for the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). As a matter of fact, the EU has drafted the ‘Small Business Act’ in 2008 and has refined it again in 2011. Another example of the EU’s commitment in this regard is conspicuous as it frequently calls for research and training schemes in the subject area of ‘SMEs’, where grants are issued under ‘Marie Curie’ and ‘Cordis FP7’ programmes.

Very often, small firms tend to find themselves in an equity gap, where it may prove quite hard to acquire capital. Although commercial banks are key providers of finance for many enterprises through the provision of loans; unsecured debt finance without collateral is very limited. Therefore, SMEs’ growth into viable investment opportunities may be severely restricted. Throughout the years, the EU has dedicated several funds to help these small (and micro) enterprises. Recently, the EU’s Enterprise and Industry Division has reiterated the importance of improving access to finance for SMEs. This interesting development has led to numerous funding schemes and to a new generation of financial instruments that support SMEs’ financing needs. Evidently, the EU has committed itself to boost its support for SMEs through various financing programmes, as illustrated in Table 1.

Table 1: EU measures that support SMEs

EU SMESource: EU (2015).

Europe is responding to the contentious issues facing SMEs by providing a mix of flexible, financial instruments under programmes, such as; the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), Progress Microfinance, the Risk Sharing Instrument (FP7), EIB loans and Structural Funds. For instance, the EU (in 2013) allocated a budget of €2.3bn specifically to bolster the “Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises” (COSME) during the period between 2014 to 2020. This initiative has been designed to support European SMEs in four key areas:

  • Developing entrepreneurship;
  • Helping SMEs access finance;
  • Supporting SMEs who wish to internationalise their business, and
  • Reducing the legislative and regulatory burden on SMEs.

Almost 220,000 SMEs profited from the Commission’s Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) programme (EU, 2013). CIP has proved to be a very successful programme over the past few years. Since 2007, there were many SMEs that had benefited from CIP Funding . In fact, CIP was able to stimulate more than €15 billion of financing for SMEs, so far (EU, 2013). With a budget of €1.1 billion (CIP) has helped to mobilise over €13 billion of loans and €2.3 billion of venture capital for SMEs across Europe. Under its SME guarantee facility, CIP has helped nearly 220,000 SMEs to access loans.

These loan guarantees are required by individual entrepreneurs or  small enterprises that do not possess sufficient collateral.  Every euro that is dedicated to guarantees will in turn stimulate 30 euros in bank loans (EU, 2013).


EU (2015) Improving the financing environment in Europe. http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/finance/financing-environment/index_en.htm accessed on the 20th January 2015.

EU (2013) Improving access to finance for SMEs: key to economic recovery. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-387_en.htm?locale=FR accessed on the 20th January 2015.

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How Education brings Social Cohesion and Economic Growth?

Who would argue against lifting people out of poverty? Today, education transcends curriculum programmes. It provides opportunities for social mobility as individuals are rewarded according to their merit.Interventions in the realms of education may play a significant role in shaping key performance indicators for social outcomes. This short contribution suggests that education may create a fair, just and equitable society for all. Thus, the notion of social cohesion and its constituent elements; social inclusion, social capital and social mobility are some of the concepts which are increasingly being addressed by stakeholders in education.

With better education there may be implications for economic growth, job creation and competitiveness (OECD, 2009). The Ministry of Education and Employment together with the University of Malta and other vocational institutions have always strived in their endeavours to address skill gaps (and mismatches) in the labour market. A lot of discourse has been made about how Malta’s productivity and competitiveness may be improved through active labour market policies and initiatives. For instance, more participation of women in the job market, flexible working arrangements, the provision and affordability of child-care facilities as well as out-of-school centres may possibly help to bring more social cohesion and a better living for all members of society. In addition, lifelong learning and employment opportunities are also vital elements of any social cohesion agenda. Through education and training, individuals will acquire knowledge and cultivate skills and competences which are relevant to their employers. Consequently, educational outcomes will influence social inclusion, social mobility and social capital as illustrated hereunder in Figure 1.


Figure 1: The Components of Social Cohesion (OECD, 2011)

The schooling experience itself impacts social cohesion as it shapes and transmits common values that underpin social capital and inclusion. Education has the potential to bring social cohesion through civic and societal engagement. To my mind, how children are schooled may impact on their sense of belonging to a society. It is important to realise that certain instruments that reduce opportunity costs of continued education can possibly improve student attainment levels. Young adolescents who leave education and training prematurely will lack the necessary skills and qualifications which are essential for their employment prospects. It may appear that, Malta is responding to the contentious issue of early school leaving (ESL) through the provision of ongoing training schemes as well as employer incentives. The Employment and Training Corporation is also using the European Union’s Training Aid Framework (TAF) which is co-funded through the European Social Fund to strengthen the employability prospects of the Maltese work force. In a nutshell, this programme sponsors students, employees and unemployed individuals to train themselves in areas which are required by the labour market. The Ministry of Education and Employment has always been committed to increase the number of students in higher education. Interestingly, Malta’s National Reform Programme under the Europe 2020 Strategy has yielded some preventative measures against ESL, including; the implementation of the “National Curriculum Framework”; the provision of more opportunities for vocational education and training (VET) in compulsory education; the strengthening of the existent “Validation of Informal” and “Non-formal Learning” as well as the development of new forms of teaching and learning, such as “e-Learning”. This programme posits that intervention measures include; a review of extant measures with a focus on school, parent, teacher collaboration, the development of a multi-stakeholder approach to address the needs of particular groups of students at risk of ESL and the further strengthening of guidance throughout compulsory education. As a result, this reform programme has set clear and measurable targets in this regard, as it emphasised the importance of effective delivery and visible results. Apparently, stakeholders in education are committed to taking steps to improve the provision of training, skills and qualifications. Year after year, the smallest EU state is raising the quality of its education and training systems to encourage a greater participation of its workforce in the labour market.

Malta has recognised the importance of reducing its number of unqualified school leavers. Lifelong learning, ongoing training opportunities and continuous professional development can offer valuable support to more vulnerable people. Measures including; better access to childcare, more flexible working schemes and employer incentives are surely helping individuals, particularly women to return to work. This short contribution suggests that the pursuit towards continuous improvement in educational scale and social progress can create a virtuous cycle of productivity outcomes and economic growth.

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