Documents considered by the Committee on 4 February 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents

15 Opening up education: innovative teaching and learning through new technologies

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionCleared from scrutiny
Document detailsCommission Communication: Opening up Education: Innovative teaching and learning for all through new Technologies and Open Educational Resources
Legal base

Document numbers

Business, Innovation and Skills

(35336), 14116/13 + ADD 1, COM(13) 654

Summary and Committee's conclusions

15.1 The Commission Communication examines the impact of new digital technologies and open learning environments on education and training systems across the EU. Concerned that the EU is falling behind the USA and some Asian economies which are already using ICT-based strategies and open educational resources (OER[63]) to transform their education systems, the Commission proposes a number of actions to support education and training institutions in adopting and adapting these technologies, not least to help to achieve broader EU objectives, notably competitiveness and growth, a more skilled workforce and increased employment. The Communication identifies three priority areas in which the impact of new digital technologies merits further consideration and support:

·  the development of open learning environments in which all educational institutions, teachers and learners have the capacity to exploit new technologies and digital content and to promote innovation;

·  the increased use of OER to expand access to educational materials and encourage more personalised learning; and

·  investment in local ICT infrastructure and the promotion of open frameworks and standards for interoperability and portability of digital educational content.

15.2 The Commission advocates a more integrated approach by Member States across all of these areas and describes how EU funding (notably, from the Erasmus +, Horizon 2020 and European Structural and Investment Funds) can be used to support further action. The Commission does not propose any new legislation. Rather, it encourages Member States and other stakeholders to work with it, and one another, to meet the challenges and policy goals described in the Communication.

15.3 The Government considers that the UK is at the forefront of digital education. Whilst describing the actions contained in the Communication as "reasonable", it also noted that a "one-size-fits-all strategy" would be inappropriate and that it should be for Member States to develop and implement national solutions. In particular, the Government:

·  made clear that the EU should not attempt to set up any EU-wide quality assurance initiatives for OER;

·  questioned the need for an EU role in relation to teachers' professional development by means of open online courses; and

·  cautioned against the use of Council Conclusions to prescribe particular actions to be taken by Member States in schools.

15.4 We agreed with the Government that the Commission should concentrate on those areas in which the EU could add demonstrable value to activities undertaken at national level, avoid a "one-size-fits-all" approach, and retain a degree of flexibility in "an extremely fast-moving area". Noting that the Council was expected to agree Conclusions based on the Communication, we asked the Government to report back to us on the outcome of discussions at the (then) forthcoming Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council and to indicate how its concerns were to be reflected in the anticipated Conclusions. We also asked the Government to explain what it meant by its reference to "non-binding" Council Conclusions — the implication being that they might, in other circumstances, be binding. The Minister who was at the time responsible for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts) sent a prompt response in December 2013.

15.5 The delay in reporting the Minister's response to the House is due to an administrative oversight on our part, for which we apologise. The delay has, however, enabled us to consider the Conclusions agreed by the Council last February. We are satisfied that the Government has been able to achieve its objectives. The Conclusions do not encroach on areas of Member State competence or seek to prescribe a "one-size-fits-all" approach to the challenges presented by the rapid development of new online technologies. We are therefore content to clear the Communication from scrutiny.

Full details of the documents: Commission Communication: Opening up Education: Innovative teaching and learning for all through new Technologies and Open Educational Resources: (35336), 14116/13 + ADD 1, COM(13) 654.


15.6 Our Twenty-third Report, agreed on 20 November 2013, provides a detailed overview of the Communication and the Government's accompanying Explanatory Memorandum.

The Government's response

15.7 In a letter dated 12 December 2013, the Minister then responsible for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts) describes the discussions that took place at the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council on 25 November 2013. The Minister notes:

    "All Member States were keen to develop open educational platforms at national level but equally there was a strong feeling that the importance of traditional teaching should not be overlooked. It was felt that the sector was still evolving and any regulation at this stage would be premature and run the risk of hindering and not helping developments.

    "There was general agreement that the role of Governments — and by extension the EU — should be one of assisting educational establishments to explore how best to use the new technologies. The Erasmus + programme was cited as a possible vehicle to support open education initiatives and projects."

15.8 The Minister expected Council Conclusions to be drafted and considered during the Greek Presidency (January to June 2014) and added:

    "Based on the November debate, my view is these Conclusions will be general in nature and ones which we would support. There was no support for EU-wide action. Rather, the majority of Member States did feel the EU might add value, potentially in funding, quality assessment or qualification recognition and it is likely therefore these areas are where the Conclusions might concentrate.

    "On the specific issue of schools, although there was some concern over the ability of teachers to make best use of the new technology, again there was no support for any EU-wide action. I think it fair to say therefore my concerns in this area have receded significantly."

15.9 Turning to the reference made in the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum to "non-binding" Conclusions, the Minister explains:

    "It is of course correct that all Council conclusions carry equal weight, although they cannot require Member States to take action. Our intent was simply that our position would be to try and ensure that the Conclusions would not be drafted in such a way that they would be seen by the European Commission as a call or encouragement to develop regulatory proposals."

The Council Conclusions

15.10 The Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council agreed a set of Conclusions on Efficient and Innovative Education and Training to invest in Skillssupporting the 2014 European Semester at its meeting on 24 February 2014. The Communication is one of a number of education and training-related documents referred to in the Conclusions. These include a general commitment to modernise and improve educational methods by supporting investment in ICT infrastructure, promoting new technologies and digital content, and encouraging continuing professional development in the use of digitally supported teaching methods.

15.11 The Conclusions invite Member States ("with due regard for the principle of subsidiarity and in accordance with national circumstances") to:

·  support education and training institutions in exploiting the potential of new technologies and digital content;

·  help teachers acquire a high level of digital skills and adopt innovative teaching practices; and

·  make use of Erasmus + and European Structural and Investment Funds to achieve these objectives.

15.12 Member States are also invited to work with the Commission to:

·  encourage partnerships at national and EU level between creators of educational content with a view to increasing the supply of open educational resources and other digital educational materials in a variety of languages;

·  make use of the new Open Education Europa portal as a reference point for existing open educational resources produced in the EU; and

·  organise a summit on the challenges posed by new technologies and open educational resources, with a particular focus on quality assurance and assessment and certification of skills acquired through new modes of learning.

Previous Committee Reports

Twenty-third Report HC 83-xxi (2013-14), chapter 6 (20 November 2013).

63   Open Educational Resources (OER) are digital materials that can be used, re-used and repurposed for teaching, learning, research and more, made freely available online through open licences such as Creative Commons. OER include a varied range of digital assets from course materials, content modules, collections, and journals to digital images, music and video clips. Back

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Prepared 13 February 2015