National or community agencies
Over time, the administrative services of the French Community have developed the habit of decentralising the organisation and management of part of the international programmes, thus relieving the central administrative services of these tasks. In line with European recommendations in particular, a number of national or Community agencies have been created.
The French-speaking agency for lifelong education and training
Created following a process of cooperation between the French Community, the Walloon Region and the Brussels-Capital Region, the French-Speaking Agency for Lifelong Education and Training (‘Agence Education Formation-Europe’ or ‘AEF-Europe’) is responsible for promoting, implementing and managing various actions falling within the scope of the European Lifelong Learning Programme (the Comenius, Leonardo Da Vinci and Erasmus Programmes in particular).
The agency has the following roles :
- to look after relations with the European authorities concerning the management and promotion of and provision of information about the Lifelong Learning Programme ;
- to ensure the implementation of the European Union actions provided for within this programme ;
- to ensure the proper financial management of the loans granted by the European Union ;
- to organise calls for applications ;
- to organise procedures for allocating grants to projects, in accordance with the principles of transparency and equality of treatment ;
- to give advice and technical assistance to potential applicants and to the owners of projects which have already been approved ;
- to disseminate and publicise achievements and outcomes so that they can be assimilated by the training and education systems.
The european Social Fund agency
The European Social Fund Agency is charged with implementing the projects financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) in the Walloon Region and the Brussels-Capital Region.
Simultaneously but independently of the phenomenon of increasing influence of the European Union, the French Community of Belgium has reinforced international cooperation with numerous non-EU countries through the signature of bilateral or multilateral agreements, most of which have specific educational components. Among these, certain priorities have been the subject of careful examination from the point of view of their impact in the educational domain, with a view to developing a structured geopolitical dimension taking into account the actual place of the French Community in Europe and the world. In this perspective, the same efforts to define priorities are underway vis-à-vis the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (mainly the new EU Member States), involving new modes of cooperation based on the recommendations derived from major international conferences or the work of international organisations (for example the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE). Here, the development of synergies at the international level is also carried out through alignment and broad compliance with the main norms adopted by the international organisations of which the French Community and/or Belgium is a member.
Obviously, although the French Community looks toward Europe and the entire world in general, special emphasis is placed on bilateral cooperation with the francophone world, with which it has established privileged relations in addition to the actions undertaken on the multilateral level. In this perspective, the priority areas have been defined by referring in particular to the Conference of Ministers of Education of French-speaking Countries (CONFEMEN) and its work following in particular the Conferences of Ministers.
Cooperation and participation in worldwide programmes and organisations
Within the framework of international cooperation in the domain of education, the French Community has emphasised the multilateral dimension of this cooperation. It has paid particularly close attention to the work carried forward by the European Union on new strategies for the development of lifelong education and training. In the same spirit, it participates actively in the work carried out within the framework of the conclusions of the Lisbon Summit and of the Education and Training 2020 Process, as well as in the work of the Copenhagen Process, in close collaboration with the Walloon and Brussels-Capital Regions. The French Community is also involved in following up on the Bologna Process for higher education.
Without claiming that the following list is exhaustive, the French Community has been active and present at the following levels :
- the European Union (the Committee on Education, the Council of Ministers). It follows the work of the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) and of the consultative committees of the European programmes ;
- the Council of Europe (the Standing Conference of European Ministers of Education, the Steering Committee for Education) ;
- the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (the Education Committee, the Centre for Research and Innovation in Education, the INES and PISA projects, the Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE), etc.) ;
- UNESCO and the International Bureau of Education (IBE) ;
- the Conference of Ministers of Education of French-speaking Countries (CONFEMEN) ;
- the Intergovernmental Francophone Agency (AIF).
In recent years, cooperation activities have developed in several directions. In addition to recurring activities (welcoming of delegations, organisation of thematic visits in schools, study visits, etc.), the following may be highlighted :
- the organisation of a ministerial seminar in connection with the Belgian presidency of the European Union in 2010 ;
- the organisation with the Council of Europe of international seminars concerning the remembrance of crimes against humanity or democratic citizenship ;
- participation in OECD surveys (thematic survey on teachers, survey on qualification systems, etc.) ;
- the organisation of a seminar to follow up on the conclusions of the Lisbon Summit in the domain of education, and the formation of a group of experts charged more specifically with monitoring progress at the European and French Community levels ;
- the French Community’s participation in the various ‘European Years’ ;
- and so on.
The French Community, represented by the Directorate for International Relations, was part of the Belgian support committee for the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion (2010) and has taken part in the arrangement of several colloquia.
In terms of positioning, the French Community’s action comes under the heading of honouring Belgium’s major commitments, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (United Nations) and the European Cultural Convention (Council of Europe). It moreover defends, together with the Flemish and German-speaking Communities, positions in favour of cultural diversity, promotion of democracy and the rule of law, equality of opportunities, and social justice. The French Community defends a specific approach to the education sector and in particular argues, within the framework of the World Trade Organisation and the negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), that the sector should remain a public good under public responsibility.
The convergence between the French Community’s policies and European political guidelines can be seen in particular in the definition of priorities for compulsory or non-compulsory education.
The Charter for the Future of the Wallonia-Brussels Community, adopted by the government of the French Community on 26 September 2001 and supplemented by an Action Plan that ran until 2010, based on the French Community’s re-financing plan, has made lifelong education and training a political priority. This objective is the first ‘lever’ identified by the government to develop the knowledge-based society that underpins its action.
Some of the priorities for the re-financing of compulsory education listed in the Action Plan are directly related to the Lisbon objectives. The priorities as regards non-compulsory education come under the same heading. In this perspective and taking into account the French Community’s financial resources, the government that came to office following the elections of June 2009 redefined its priorities as regards education through its Declaration of Community Policy 2009-2014. The key elements of the Lisbon strategy as regards education are present, in particular :
- ensuring basic learning and a knowledge of languages ;
- working to redesign qualification-oriented education ;
- reinforcing the steering of education (e.g. via indicators) ;
- supporting teachers in the practice of their profession ;
- combating the shortage of teachers with effective measures ;
- guaranteeing access for as many people as possible to quality higher education ;
- consolidating public research and improving the status of researchers.
The Declaration of Community Policy 2009-2014 sets out the government’s commitment “in particular in the field of culture and education, to defend the principles of public service and public regulation, in the face of commercialisation and liberalisation” (p. 173). International solidarity should be reinforced, in particular by means of improved support for actions in development education and the concentration of resources on a limited number of countries and on priority sectors. With regard to education, the aim of ensuring universal education will be pursued by means of work to raise the quality of education, especially through teacher training.
The Charter for the Future of the Wallonia-Brussels Community highlights the importance of further intensifying international exchanges in the domain of legislation pertaining to education and of generalising the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) while rejecting the ‘commoditisation’ of educational services and the abandonment of the French Community’s own certification and subsidy systems.