Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report


COM(01) 172

SEC (01) 526

Commission Communication :The e-Learning Action Plan —
Designing tomorrow's education.

Commission Staff Working Paper: Annex: guide to related
programmes and instruments.

Legal base:
Documents originated: 28 March 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 2 April 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 25 April 2001
Department: Education and Skills
Basis of consideration: EM of 4 May 2001
Previous Committee Report: None; but see (21324) 9022/00: HC 23-xxv (1999-2000), paragraph 9 (19 July 2000)
To be discussed in Council: Not applicable
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


28.1  The e-Learning initiative is part of the comprehensive e-Europe Action Plan. Last summer, we considered a Commission Communication about it, entitled E-learning — designing tomorrow's education. We cleared the document, noting that the Commission intended to prepare a framework for attaining its goals and to provide progress reports to the Education Council.

The documents

28.2  The framework has now itself become an Action Plan (document (a)). It has been deposited together with an Annex (document (b)) summarising existing programmes and pointing out their relevance to e-learning. Our report concentrates on document (a).

Document (a)

28.3  The Action Plan covers the period 2001-2004 and is intended to support implementation of the e-Learning initiative by providing "a tool to help practical players and decision-makers by presenting options and explaining possible approaches". After listing the aims of the initiative, and charting its progress over the last year, the Communication identifies four key areas: infrastructure; training; high-quality multimedia services and content; co-operation across Europe. For each of these, a set of "measures" is listed, together with an indication of the bodies responsible for their achievement. While some of the measures are specific ("organisation of an 'e-Learning Summit' ", for example), many are general in nature ("support for multi-lingual portals on the Internet"), and few, if any, are quantifiable.

28.4  The Plan makes it clear that it is concerned with the co-ordinated and coherent use of existing resources: no new money is on offer.

The Government's view

28.5  The then Minister for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone) told us in May 2001 that the proposals in the Action Plan are consistent with UK policy as set out in the National Grid for Learning, announced in 1997, and, to a great extent, mirror what the UK has done already or is in the process of doing. She identified a number of minor differences between the aims listed in the document and the published UK targets (one example is the target for all schools in the EU to have an Internet connection by the end of 2001; the UK's target is for all schools to be connected by 2002). In addition, there are some parts of the text which are open to interpretation, and a few detailed points on which the UK would take issue (such as the recommendation that all schools be linked up to research-level broadband networks). She concluded however that: "as these proposals are for open negotiation, are listed for Member State action, and are not binding on UK policy, it is not anticipated that they will cause difficulties".


28.6  We find this a disappointing Action Plan. The lack of challenging targets results in it adding little of substance to the Communication which preceded it. It is significant that the Minister's reservations largely relate to the objectives of the e-Learning initiative itself rather than to the bland "measures" listed in the Plan.

28.7  Nevertheless, since, as the Minister says, the proposals are not likely to cause difficulties, we clear the documents.

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Prepared 30 July 2001