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Report from the Commission - Final Report from the Commission on the implementation of the Socrates programme 1995 - 1999

/* COM/2001/0075 final */
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Report from the Commission - Final Report from the Commission on the implementation of the Socrates programme 1995 - 1999 /* COM/2001/0075 final */


1. Framework and background information

1.1 The purpose of the report

This report concerns the implementation of the SOCRATES programme during the period 1995 to 1999 [1], which corresponds to the first phase of the programme. It takes into account all analyses available, particularly the conclusions of the interim evaluation [2] and of four external evaluations completed in November 2000. [3] In the interest of transparency, all these external evaluations are available on the Commission's Internet site. [4] This document has undergone thorough consultation within the SOCRATES Committee and the support group set up by it. [5] The analysis and information gathering carried out must also inform the debate at the broadest level in order to contribute inter alia to the success of the new phase of the SOCRATES programme [6] by drawing on the experienced amassed between 1995 and 1999.

[1] In accordance with Article 8(2) of Decision No 819/95/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 14 March 1995 (OJ L 87 of 20.4.1995) amended by Decision No 98/576/EC of 23 February 1998 (OJ L 77 of 14.3.1998).

[2] External evaluation GMV Council (1998) and Commission report COM (97) 99 final of 14 March 1997, covering the period 1995-1996.

[3] An overall evaluation and three specific evaluations undertaken following calls for tender were carried out over a ten-month period. Hereinafter in the report all references to "external evaluation" concern the overall evaluation report. This overall evaluation was conducted by Wissenschaftliches Zentrum für Berufs- und Hochschulforschung, Universität GH Kassel in conjunction with the European Education and Social Policy Institute in Paris. The specific evaluations relate to the participation in the SOCRATES programme of people with special education needs (European Agency for Special Needs, Copenhagen), the impact of Erasmus in engineering (Sociedade portuguesa de inovaçao, Porto) and the results of the Comenius 1 and Lingua E actions (Deloitte and Touche, Brussels). The conclusions of a number of other specific evaluations undertaken between 1995 and 1999, particularly under Erasmus, have also been considered.

[4] Detailed information on the SOCRATES programme can also be found on this site.

[5] This support group is made up of experts designated by the Member States and a few representatives of European associations in the area of education. It met five times in 1999 and 2000.

[6] By Decision No 253/2000/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 January 2000, a second phase of the programme was established to run from 2000 to 2006 (OJ L 28/1 of 3.2.2000).

The report comprises an examination of the results achieved by the programme in relation to the objectives set by Decision 819/95/EC. This analysis is followed by a summary of the main developments in the programme, considering at the same time the transition of the programme from its initial phase to the second phase and the political environment in which SOCRATES evolved. It is intended to be a synthetic report and priority is given to qualitative analysis. A few key figures are included in an annex.

1.2 The SOCRATES programme: origins, developments, objectives

The adoption of the SOCRATES programme by Decision 819/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (14 March 1995) introduced, for the first time at Community level, the implementation of an overall programme in the area of education. SOCRATES subsumed the Erasmus programme (adopted in 1987) and a major portion of the Lingua programme (adopted in 1989), as well as various pilot initiatives previously undertaken by the Commission, particularly in school education. The SOCRATES programme is based on an integrated framework of actions and activities relating to all levels of education. [7] Article 1 of the Decision states: "This programme is intended to contribute to the development of quality education and training and the creation of an open European area for cooperation in education". Over and above this general objective, the programme sets out nine specific objectives listed in Article 3 of the SOCRATES Decision [8] which underpin a range of actions and sub-actions which go to serve as a framework for developing projects.

[7] A summary table of actions under the SOCRATES programme (first phase) is included in an annex to the report: Annex 1.

[8] These nine objectives are:

1.3 The legal and political context

The legal basis of the SOCRATES Decision is to be found in Articles 126 and 127 of the Treaty on European Union. [9] The general aim of the Community policy on education is to "contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action, while fully respecting the responsibility of the Member States for the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems and their cultural and linguistic diversity".

[9] Which have become Articles 149 and 150 since 1 May 1999 (when the Treaty of Amsterdam came into force).

Examining what the SOCRATES programme has achieved implies taking account of this legal framework which emphasises the primary responsibility of the Member States when it comes to education policy. SOCRATES is designed to provide stimulation for opening up to Europe of national policies on a complementary -- and not an alternative -- basis to them. The stated resolve of the Member States in recent years to build up a Europe of knowledge based on more active policies with regard to lifelong learning gives the programme the opportunity to stand as a powerful tool for implementing European and national policies in the area of education. The Commission will in future encourage the strengthening of open coordination between national and European decision-makers, in order to guarantee the success of the implementation of the ambitious conclusions of the special European Council meeting in Lisbon in March 2000.

This report takes account of the major policy developments which emerged between 1995 and 1999 in the area of education in Europe. These include the publication of the 'White Paper on teaching and learning: towards the learning society' (1995) and a 'Green Paper on the obstacles to transnational mobility in Europe' (1996), the Commission Communication entitled "Towards a Europe of knowledge" (1997), the European Year of Lifelong Learning (1996) and the European Year against Racism and Xenophobia (1997).

1.4 Who does the SOCRATES programme target-

Between 1995 and 1997 the SOCRATES programme was implemented in the 15 Member States of the European Union and in those countries covered by the agreement on the European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). Since 1997 and 1998, it has also been open to the nationals and the institutions of a number of countries which have applied to join the European Union (Cyprus, Romania, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia), subject to specific conditions established under the association agreements signed with these countries. Bulgaria, Slovenia and the three Baltic States came into the programme in 1999.

The SOCRATES programme potentially targets a broad public but obviously cannot reach everyone concerned. The European Union has 145 million young people aged under 30, i.e. around 40% of the total population. Some 70 million of these young people receive instruction from over 4 million teachers in 305 000 schools. In addition, around 10 million children receive pre-school education. 11 million students attend 5 000 higher education establishments and millions of adults follow courses in order to update their knowledge and skills.

Many players are involved in education. With a limited budget, representing under 1% of the total Community budget, the SOCRATES programme has endeavoured to give priority to those players whose action can generate a multiplier effect. The important matter of selecting participants will be incorporated into the detailed analysis of the programme results. All in all, a lot remains to be done in order to better circumscribe the priority targets for each action. The impact of SOCRATES is indeed very much dependent upon national policies in relation to which Community action can fulfil only a complementary function.

1.5 What are its resources-

The initial budget fixed by the Decision establishing the programme was EUR 850 million. The feasibility of reviewing this amount at the half-way stage had initially been envisaged. In view of the response to the programme, the Commission proposed a review the adoption of which took the SOCRATES budget up to EUR 920 million. Lastly, the budgetary authority took account of the fact that the programme had funded supporting expenditure of EUR 13 million and added this amount to the budget for the final year. The total budget thus came to EUR 933 million, 920 million of which represented operational expenditure. Even so, it was still not possible to fully meet a demand which had been increasingly regularly. The applicant countries have gradually been taking part in the SOCRATES programme, benefiting from resources drawn at Community level from the PHARE programme. [10] An accurate financial breakdown of the actions throughout the period 1995 - 1999 is given in the annex. [11]

[10] The link between the PHARE and SOCRATES programme has generated certain difficulties as regards implementation. The Commission has endeavoured to solve these problems in close conjunction with the competent authorities both at European and at national levels.

[11] Annex 2: ex-post budgets for 1995-1999 giving a breakdown by action. Annex 3: breakdown by action in average terms from 1995 to 1999.

1.6 The SOCRATES programme: its structures

The SOCRATES programme is implemented by the Commission assisted by the SOCRATES Committee which includes two representatives from each Member State and is chaired by the Commission. Also represented within this Committee, subject to the conditions of the Treaty establishing the European Economic Area, are Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Two subcommittees have also been set up for higher education and for school education. The Commission is gratified by the excellent cooperation which has emerged during the past five years between the Committee and the two subcommittees, and, thanks to regular consultations, with the applicant countries.

The application and selection procedures set out by Decision 819/95/EC vary depending on whether the action is centralised and managed by the European Commission with the aid of the Technical Assistance Office (TAO) for SOCRATES and YOUTH, or a decentralised action managed by the national agencies designated in the countries taking part in the programme.

The national agencies perform management and monitoring functions with regard to the decentralised actions, but also provide information on all actions. The high number of agencies during the start-up phase of the programme meant there was some risk of confusion for the potential beneficiaries and of heterogeneousness in the implementation of actions. This is why the Commission sought to encourage the creation of more integrated national structures.

1.7 The implementation of the programme from 1995 to 1999

The external evaluation points to three types of criticisms from those who took part in the initial phase of SOCRATES. The main criticism is of the implementation procedures, the dissemination of results and the policy for following up and evaluating the programme in general.

Many procedures have been deemed excessively cumbersome and complex in relation to the sums involved, which are sometimes small. There has been overemphasis on the financial aspects of the projects to the detriment of the teaching aspects. Payment schedules are often excessively long. The Commission has taken on board this criticism, which it has begun to discuss in detail with the Member States. It is important that the move to simplify procedures which will be done under the new phase of the programme takes due account of all the problems raised, which concern the Commission but also frequently the procedures implemented at national level by the agencies and the establishments themselves.

The external evaluation finds that access to information has been judged satisfactory by the participants, with the exception of disabled persons. The content of information provided nonetheless remains excessively complex and dissemination of the programme results has been disappointing. The SOCRATES programme remains popular but questions remain as to its visibility. The Commission intends to take due account of this criticism in order to shape for the future a policy which is better targeted as regards communication, in partnership with the participating countries.

Lastly, the Commission acknowledges that the policy on monitoring and evaluation implemented in the first phase of the programme was inadequate. In particular, the external evaluator encountered substantial difficulty in gathering reliable figures, particularly for the decentralised actions. This question will be reviewed in detail in the part of the report given over to trends and developments. [12]

[12] 3.2: resources deployed.


The results achieved through the various actions of the programme have to be appreciated in the light of the SOCRATES objectives during its initial phase. Due account must also be taken of the budgetary limits of the Community programme in relation to national education budgets.

The results are presented in the order of the ten programme objectives [13] set by the Decision establishing the programme. A number of these objectives are of course directly linked between one another and thus require cross-referenced interpretation. The changes which have taken place over the past five years must also be taken into account. The matter of consistency [14] will then be discussed. Lastly, certain spin-off results considered to be significant will be mentioned although they do not strictly correspond to the objectives set for the programme.

[13] The nine specific objectives followed by the general objective to contribute to the development of high quality education and training, in the context of which the matter of the impact of the SOCRATES programme on the national education systems will be discussed.

[14] Article 6 of Decision No 819/95/EC.

The Commission feels that the excessively vague definition of the many objectives set in 1995 by the Council and the European Parliament makes it difficult to have an overview of the results achieved. For the sake of clarity, this report accordingly focuses first on the objectives primarily linked to the resolve to develop European citizenship [15], then to those targeting more specifically the improvement of the quality of education systems. [16].

[15] Objectives a, b, d, e, f, included in 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3.

[16] Objectives c, g, h and i, included in 2.4, 2.5, 2.6 and 2.7.

2.1 European dimension in studies in order to consolidate European citizenship

This first objective concerns all the actions of the programme and is the most general. Although difficult to express in terms of quantity, the results show that the projects carried forward by the programme have favoured the development of key skills in European citizenship, particularly on the language front, but also in terms of communication and countering cultural prejudice and stereotypes. In higher education, students who have benefited from Erasmus continue to rank the broadening of their cultural and linguistic horizons during their stay in another country amongst the major achievements of their experience. In the other actions of the programme, the participants have to a very large extent stressed the contribution of the programme to a tangible approach to European citizenship. This is particularly true for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which have applied to join the European Union and in relation to which SOCRATES has played a pioneering role when it comes to integrating the education players from the point of view of European citizenship.

The SOCRATES programme has nevertheless so far done more to develop the idea of European citizenship in general than to strengthen the European dimension in studies as such. Much remains to be done on this front, particularly with regard to school education.

2.2 Improvement of the knowledge of languages and the intercultural dimension

Improving the knowledge of the languages of the European Union was one of the objectives of the former LINGUA programme. It was incorporated into the broader framework of SOCRATES [17] in an endeavour to strengthen the link between language teaching activities and all the sectors of education, while moving ahead towards innovation through new actions in the area of language teaching. Five additional actions have been introduced into the Lingua chapter of the SOCRATES programme [18].

[17] And of LEONARDO da VINCI

[18] These are set out in Annex 1. As far as objectives are concerned actions A, B and C seek to improve the quality of language teaching in Europe, action D to develop language teaching tools and tools for assessing language skills, while action E is intended to encourage young people to learn and use other languages. All the Lingua actions include a priority targeting the languages less widely used and taught in the European Union.

The external evaluation highlights Lingua's overall good image, although the details of the results show a somewhat patchy pattern. The 3 000 future foreign language teachers benefited between 1995 and 1999 from action C, the action whose results have been best validated by the players in the field, particularly in relation to the objective of learning the languages less widely used in Europe. Action E made it possible to involve every year in the education projects some 1500 schools, with a high proportion from the vocational education sector. The 73 projects supported by action A (European cooperation programmes for language teacher training) and the 35 000 teachers who benefited from continuing training actions in the area of foreign language teaching (action B) have helped to improve the quality of language teaching in Europe. 86 projects benefited from action D (development of language teaching tools and tools for assessing language skills). These actions have a limited scope in quantitative terms. Teachers benefiting from action B, for instance, represent well under 10% of all foreign language teachers in Europe. The impact of such actions is in this case all the more positive as SOCRATES complemented active national policies in the area of language learning.

Language learning is an objective not simply restricted to Lingua. Under Erasmus, for instance, many students received language tuition. Student mobility, moreover, has a considerable impact when it comes to learning another language. This feature is indeed common to all education partners (pupils, teachers, adults, etc) who have had to use a foreign language under mobility or cooperation actions funded by the SOCRATES programme. [19].

[19] As regards school partnerships, see the conclusions of the specific evaluation of the Lingua E and Comenius 1 actions. These conclusions are particularly useful in the context of the second phase of the programme, in that the new school partnerships embrace the language dimension which was previously catered for under Lingua Action E.

The results achieved by the SOCRATES programme in the area of languages has nevertheless suffered from some degree of tension between two objectives of the programme: one of a "qualitative" nature - all too infrequently attained - designed to encourage against a background of cultural diversity the learning of the languages of the European Union languages less widely taught, the other of a "quantitative" nature which tends to favour an increase in the number of people able to speak one or more foreign languages. On this latter front, cooperation or mobility actions under SOCRATES have given English an advantage, not so much as regards the teaching of this language as through its status as the international lingua franca. The Commission defends the objective of proficiency by each and every one of us of two other Community languages [20]. The year 2001 will be the European Year of Languages and will provide a greater opportunity to strengthen policies on learning languages at any time of life [21].

[20] Proposed by the White Paper "Teaching and learning: towards the learning society" (1995).

[21] Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council, submitted by the Commission, COM (1999) 485 final of 13 October 1999.

Promoting the intercultural dimension of teaching concerns many actions of the programme and stands as a particularly important objective when it comes to school education and the challenge of facing up to the spread of violence and racism currently afflicting our societies.

Under Action 2 of Comenius, 350 projects were funded between 1995 and 1999. These projects addressed a wide range of themes which included the promotion of integrated approaches in schools situated in towns with a large proportion of immigrant children and the development of open and distance learning tools for itinerant workers. Other projects have targeted active cooperation between pupils in order to counter racism at school. There is, however, much still to be done in this area and this explains why this objective, in the new phase of the programme, is a horizontal priority across the Comenius actions. [22]

[22] The provisions introduced by Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty and concerning the fight against social discrimination on grounds of sex, race and ethnic origin, strengthen the political importance of this objective.

Several transnational cooperation projects funded by the adult education action also set out to develop the intercultural dimension of education, in particular, through teaching modules or integration pathways for people in danger of being excluded as a result of their ethnic identity and for disadvantaged female groups.

2.3 Promotion of mobility and exchanges (students, teachers, pupils)

Support for mobility is one of the pillars of the programme. [23] The Commission nonetheless regrets that the Decision establishing the programme has included mobility amongst its objectives, as mobility should evidently have been envisaged not as an end in itself but as a means primarily intended to develop European citizenship. Given the many obstacles which still remain to mobility within the European area, this theme, on which the popularity of Erasmus at the end of the 1980s is based, remains highly topical at European level, particularly in the area of education. [24] This report attempts to analyse the results achieved in terms of both quantity and quality.

[23] This section analyses the results obtained for objectives d, e and f of the programme and which are designed to foster the mobility of teachers and students and to promote better relations between pupils. A few figures are given in the Annex. Annex 4: student mobility, Erasmus action (1995-1999). Annex 5: Teacher mobility, Comenius, Lingua and Erasmus actions (1995-1999). Annex 6: Pupil mobility under Lingua action E (1995-1999).

[24] End 2000: discussion in the European Parliament and the Council of a recommendation designed to foster the mobility within the Community of students, people in training, young volunteers, teachers and trainers; action plan for mobility proposed by the French Presidency.

In quantitative terms, the results are good. Over half the Erasmus budget was given over to funding mobility grants for students wishing to undertake part of their studies in another participating country (action 2). Some 460 000 students thus benefited from this type of mobility between 1995 and 1999 (over 90 000 in 1998/99), which represents a twofold increase over the previous five-year period (1990-1995). [25] This twofold increase is all the more astonishing as at the same time most of the participating countries were experiencing a sharp rise in student numbers. The average length of student mobility is just under seven months. In addition, over 40 000 university teachers in Europe had the opportunity of academic mobility under inter-institutional cooperation programmes firstly, and then under inter-institutional contracts. Their number rose from 1 400 in 1990-91 to 7 000 per year in 1998-99.

[25] However, the mobility actually undertaken remains lower than half the mobility anticipated by the higher education institutes and for which financial support by the Commission had been approved.

Teacher mobility was also possible under several Comenius and Lingua actions. Some 40 000 people took part in continuing training courses for teachers, mainly in the language field.

The decision establishing the SOCRATES programme makes no provision for pupil mobility, but seeks more generally to "encourage contacts among pupils in the European Union". Some 150 000 pupils and language teachers moved around between 1995 and 1999 at the end of their joint language project (Lingua E). In addition, although mobility amongst pupils is not listed among the items of eligible expenditure for Comenius 1, the specific external evaluation makes the point the European education projects did in half the instances involve physical mobility which was paid for thanks to mainly local funds.

In terms of quality, the analysis becomes more complex given the great diversity of expectations among the education players and decision makers in relation to mobility which cannot be considered an objective in its own right. The impact of mobility is, moreover, very much dependant on problems concerning the recognition of diplomas and periods of study spent elsewhere. [26]

[26] See 2.5.

A more detailed analysis of student mobility flows shows an uneven pattern of distribution by country [27] and branch of study [28]. Moreover, the external evaluation shows that substantial inequalities in the amount of grants to students per each participating country persist: under EUR 100 to over EUR 800 per month depending on the Member State concerned. This gap should not prompt hasty conclusions. In actual fact, 60% of the amount of the grants comes on average from SOCRATES, the other 40% from other sources. This average masks a wide range of national situations. Against a background of global reduction of the amount of grants to each student: ECU 1 220 in 1990/91, 959 in 1997/98, the parental contribution tends to increase. This trend obviously creates risks of increasing inequality between students. The Commission will stimulate the discussion on the advantages and drawbacks of increasing involvement in certain countries of regional or local structures and the private sector in the funding of mobility actions, primarily for students.

[27] In 1997/98, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands in particular received more Erasmus students than they sent to other countries, thus confirming the prominent choice of English in mobility flows. Over the past few years, Finland and the Netherlands attracted an increasing number of students thanks to courses offered in English -- see 2.2.

[28] For detailed sectoral analysis refer to the conclusions of the specific "Erasmus/engineering" evaluation.

Positive though it may be, teacher mobility has not had the level of success anticipated. Response was good to the mobility proposed under Comenius. However, at school level, all too often there are obstacles which impede the departure of teachers and the (formal or other) accounting of the "added value" that mobility actions undertaken by teachers should bring to the whole of an educational community. In the area of higher education, the average mobility of teachers who have benefited under Erasmus fell from 24 days on average in 1990/91 to eight days in 1998/99, which does not augur well for a significant impact. Generally speaking, the Commission has questions to ask concerning the choice of teachers who should as a matter of priority benefit from mobility actions. Under Comenius and Lingua the typical profile has been that of teachers between 40 and 50 years of age with 15 years experience. As the external evaluation suggests, the Commission encourages the participant countries to ask themselves whether mobility should not rather be offered, on a voluntary basis, to teachers in the early years of their careers.

As for exchanges between pupils at European level with or without mobility, the positive effects are undeniable with regard to the putting into practice of the concept of European citizenship. The matter of the global impact must however be discussed, in a context of a limited budget, in relation to a high number of schools. [29]

[29] The information provided by the specific external evaluation that pupil mobility has accompanied half the Europe education projects despite the absence of SOCRATES funding provides an opportunity to enhance this debate.

In more overall terms, the Commission would like to discuss the matter of the distribution of priorities across objectives such as mobility -- designed to reach as many education players as possible -- and more selective objectives open to innovation and perspective in education. Complementarity between the two objectives is indeed desirable, but implies that the actions undertaken at the European level find as time goes by in the various countries an adequate and balanced number of relays across the countries, particularly as regards "mass actions", e.g. through national mobility plans.

2.4 Cooperation between schools at all levels of teaching

This fundamental objective concerns all the actions of the programme [30].

[30] Some statistics have been given in the annex. Annex 7: institutional contracts, Erasmus action (1999). Annex 8: current list of thematic networks, Erasmus action. Annex 9: schools taking part in the European education projects, Comenius action (1999).

On the higher education front, there has been a systematic resolve to organise and step up cooperation under the programme and secure institutional support in the activities supported under Erasmus action 1: the institutional contract and the thematic networks.

The institutional contract links the higher educational establishment in its entirety to the development of a consistent European cooperation policy on the basis of a commitment which accompanies the application submitted by each school: the "European policy declaration". Under this system, the European activities of universities stem from a consistent strategy, an institutional commitment at all levels and brought internal consultation within the establishment, and are not simply a purely academic matter linked to the initiative of one teacher or one department in a faculty.

The external evaluation [31] stresses that the problems of switching over from the former inter-university cooperation programmes to the institutional contracts today on the whole seem to have been overcome and have enabled the institutions to put in place a more active European policy. 1 800 higher education establishments every year sign an institutional contract with the Commission. There are approximately 5 000 partnerships yearly. These include intensive programmes (around 900 in all) and the joint development of study programmes (almost 400 projects and 2 000 partnerships). Today this favourable trend, observed particularly in the central European countries, nonetheless seems over time to be slowing down and this should be given some thought. It is indeed important, while deriving advantage from the strengthening of the institutional framework, that the programme continues to allow academic staff to provide a personal input to Europe cooperation projects. The external evaluation thoroughly analyses 53 higher education study programmes the impact of which is judged promising provided the players involved in the projects benefit from a markedly more resolute institutional support. The Commission urges the participating countries to look into this question in greater depth in conjunction with the teaching work of universities.

[31] Which on this point takes account of a comprehensive study by the European Rectors Association -- project entitled "Emerging European policy profiles of higher education institutions", 1998, supported by the Commission.

The university cooperation projects on themes of common interest (better known under the name "thematic network projects") represent a new activity under SOCRATES. These projects are primarily designed to define and build up a European dimension within specific academic subject areas or other questions of common interest thanks to cooperation between faculties or departments within universities and university associations (and in certain cases professional associations). The first thematic network started their work in 1996/97. The 42 existing thematic networks cover a wide range of areas and all in all involve around 1 700 establishments. The external evaluation is circumspect as to the impact of this initiative which is still comparatively recent and can be better assessed under the new phase of the programme.

One of the main SOCRATES innovations is to have for the first time offered the whole of compulsory education the opportunity to take part in European cooperation actions which were hitherto restricted to higher education and the language field (Lingua). The impact of the participation of over two million pupils in Comenius 1 projects is viewed positively by the external evaluation. In the period 1995-1999, 15 000 schools cooperated in 3 700 European education projects, i.e. almost 4% of schools of the 15 Member States. The number of these schools, approximately one third of which in the primary area, rose from 1 500 1995 to 9 000 in 1999. These figures prompt the question, examined up by the external evaluation, of what real impact the "mass" objectives sought by a programme with a limited budget has, particularly in the area of school education which involves over 300 000 schools in the European Union. The specific external evaluation stresses the cross-disciplinary nature of many projects and how they contribute to learning to work as part of a team in a multicultural environment conducive to the fostering of tolerance. Furthermore, continuing training actions for education staff (Comenius action 3, Lingua A and B) will be strengthened under the new phase of the programme.

Cooperation has also been one of the major thrusts of the Lingua, adult education and ODL actions.

Lingua has permitted fruitful cooperation between language teacher training institutes and the creation and dissemination of a wide range of language learning and training course methods which can help teachers to cope with new demand.

On the subject of adult training, [32] 2.7% of the SOCRATES budget was given over to this new action which has made it possible to open up European cooperation to extremely broad target groups beyond the school and higher education systems. The focus has been on the following aspects: promotion of individual demand for education, improvement of the quality of the provision of education activities and development of backup services for learners and adult trainers, flanked by the promotion of flexible systems for validating knowledge. The accent has been on multipliers (trainers, teachers, etc.) as the target public for these projects. A good level of cooperation with UNESCO and the Council of Europe has been established. The huge potential of this action justifies the option of giving a major role to the new Grundtvig action in the second phase of the programme. This new action will go beyond the restrictive framework of adult education and will look at all formal and non-formal pathways of lifelong learning.

[32] The results of the evaluation of a hundred or so projects undertaken between 1995 and 1997 by the Deutsches Institut für Erwachsenenbildung at the request of the Commission (MOPED project) have been taken into account by the external evaluation.

2.5 Encouraging the recognition of qualifications, periods of studies and other qualifications

The people of Europe cannot exercise their right to move around freely and to establish themselves freely within the European Union unless their skills and qualifications are recognised. The recognition of qualifications, periods of study and other qualifications is therefore an integral part of the mobility objective described above. Accordingly the SOCRATES programme contains two special arrangements: the ECTS (European credit transfer system) under Erasmus action 1 and the NARIC network (action III.3.4). In addition, SOCRATES resolutely sets out to work its way to recognition of non-formal and informal systems of learning.

Within its remit established by the Treaty, the SOCRATES programme has continued and strengthened the implementation of the ECTS for awarding and transferring university course units. The number of higher education establishments (faculties or departments) using the ECTS system rose from 145 in 1989 to over 1 200 (5 000 faculties or departments) in 1999. This figure covers approximately half the Erasmus students. The ECTS system is henceforth part of the institutional policy of establishments and is set to spread further in the near future. The external evaluation deems that the ECTS system has fulfilled its objectives in some 85% of cases. Outside the ECTS system, recognition is provided to students in an average 75% of cases. These percentages, based on student consultation, do not take account of the possibility of a mismatch between the expectations of these students themselves and the actual rights under contracts. The Commission hopes that the observations of the external evaluation can be analysed in depth by the universities with a view to making allow improvements, taking due account of the diversity of the national environments. In view of the swelling ranks of users and the extension of the system to the associated countries and to other areas such as lifelong learning, information, counselling and follow up need to be strengthened so as to guarantee effective implementation of the ECTS system in all countries.

The NARIC (Network of national academic recognition information centres), operational since 1984, currently comprises 32 national centres, including the Member States of the European Union, the EFTA countries, central European countries, as well Cyprus and Malta. It has pursued and strengthened its information and counselling activities on the recognition of qualifications. The Commission has in this context and in conjunction with the Council of Europe and UNESCO, drafted a diploma supplement which should be adopted widely by the countries taking part in the SOCRATES programme and which thus promotes the transparency of qualifications and as a consequence the recognition of diplomas. The external evaluation was unable to assess the impact of the activity of the NARIC network.

In the area of adult education, the recognition of achievements has not so far yielded the anticipated results. The question of validating professional achievement and experience must be given the place it deserves in the new phase of the programme under the Grundtvig action for which the target is lifelong training.

2.6 Encouraging open and distance learning

Under the first phase of the SOCRATES programme this objective, designed before Internet entered the scene so successfully in Europe, has been periodically readjusted in order to take account of the education uses of Internet and the relentless developments in educational multimedia. The initial concepts of open and distance learning (ODL), better understood in the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic countries than in the south of Europe, has been a hindrance to the participation of certain countries. Under the new phase of the programme, the definition of the MINERVA action and the link between this action and the eLearning initiative should make it possible to overcome this obstacle.

Another fact is that this objective received a limited budget by comparison in particular with trends in the same area in Community funds for research and technological development (over EUR 30 million yearly between 1995 and 1999). This observation should be taken into consideration in order to ensure the future success of the eLearning initiative, in connection with the overall eEurope action plan which is designed to make Europe the most competitive economy in the world and permit the emergence of a knowledge-based society.

166 projects were selected, involving over 1 000 people and organisations, with regular renewal of participants in the projects. The traditional universities and the school associations have participated more actively than the open and distance universities. In addition, the external evaluation stresses quite rightly the considerable presence of players in the area of special education in the rural areas and working with specific groups (women, young people in difficulty). On the other hand, the project-based approach inherent in the programme has hampered better-structured cooperation between the decision-making centres (Ministries of Education, university chancellors, etc.). [33] Due account will have to be taken of these observations by the Minerva action within the framework defined by the eLearning initiative. There is also a case for more action targeting primary and secondary education and for strengthening public/private partnerships beyond the traditional players involved in education.

[33] With the exception of projects such as the Humanities project undertaken by Federation of European Universities or the European Schoolnet Project described later.

All these projects made it possible to establish the networks needed and to build up a broad-based corpus of expertise. Focus was primarily on the development of organisational models and teaching methods in order to give priority to mastering the education processes rather than paying attention to the products alone. The success of the projects therefore depended largely on the quality of the processes introduced, e.g. cooperation between pupils and/or teachers or the production of multimedia materials by pupils based in different places. The twice-yearly meetings between coordinators made it possible to multiply new instances of cooperation and to consolidate the projects.

On top of the 166 pilot projects other actions of networking and familiarisation with the new tools were funded. Fourteen "educational multimedia" projects received support after a joint call for proposals organised with the Directorates-General in charge of research and technological development and with the LEONARDO da VINCI programme. This is the framework in which, for instance, the European Schoolnet project was launched, rallying the efforts of 21 Ministries of Education and a range of players from the multimedia technologies sector. [34] The action in question in 1998 and 1999 directly funded 150 projects under the Netd@ys Europe operation, [35] the aim of which is to make schools aware of and use communication networks, particularly through special high profile events.

[34] This is a strategic initiative of the Member States in conjunction with the Commission to implement the Council Resolution of 6 May 1996 concerning multimedia educational software. It henceforth offers a European portal on the Internet: which makes it possible to access common multilingual services of information and communication intended for the world of education at the European level.

[35] Part of the perspective of the Commission's action plan "Learning in the information society", drawn up in 1997.

2.7 Promoting exchanges of information and experience

Within the horizontal actions of the SOCRATES programme, Action III.3 made it possible to support sets of measures and mechanisms designed to foster the exchange of experience in education across the participating countries. The action has four components: questions of common interest on education policy, the EURYDICE network, Arion and the NARIC network.

Under "questions of common interest on education policy", the Commission supported specific activities on the priority themes selected by the Council. The Decision adopting the SOCRATES programme identified two priority themes for this sub-action. These were: "the role of education for young people leaving the education system without enough qualifications" and "the evaluation of quality in the school system". A third theme arrived in 1997 alongside the two initially envisaged: that of "ongoing education" as part of the European Year of Lifelong Learning.

These themes were implemented through the publication of four calls for proposals in the Official Journal of the European Communities between 1995 and 1998. 1999 was given over to utilisation and dissemination of the results of the 50 or so projects funded since the programme was launched. Certain projects, such as the pilot project on the evaluation of quality in education, [36] have had a major policy impact.

[36] This project, which involved 101 secondary schools in 18 countries, paved the way for a proposal for a recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council on "European cooperation in quality evaluation in school education" COM (1999) 709 final of 24.1.2000.

Arion has permitted exchange of experience in order to promote the mutual knowledge and enhancement of education systems thanks to study visits for education specialists and decision makers. 750 study visits were organised under this action during the five years of the SOCRATES programme, involving a total of approximately 8 000 participants.

EURYDICE, the education information network in the European Community, continued its work of drafting and disseminating information on the education systems of the countries taking part in the SOCRATES programme. The network today comprises 33 national units and one European unit. Its mission is to provide the authorities in the participating countries and at European level, but also to a wide audience interested in education, with comparative studies on the organisation and development of education systems and policies.

The results achieved by EURYDICE since 1995 include in particular the production and publication of 19 comparative studies and basic documents on a wide range of themes and three issues of the report "Key figures in education in Europe", undertaken in conjunction with EUROSTAT, and the updating and annual publication of a Community database on education systems in Europe (EURYBASE). [37] The Commission will continue to base itself in the future on the expertise of the network to inform debate on education at the Community level, around clearly-defined objectives.

[37] Internet site :

2.8 Development of good quality education and training

The SOCRATES programme is not restricted to the nine specific objectives described above, but also sets out through them to make a contribution to developing quality education and training across the Member States. [38] The Commission considers that the question of how much impact the SOCRATES programme has on trends in the national education systems is fundamentally important. The external evaluation provides some useful indications. All in all, this impact is recognised by the policy decision makers but in a relatively imprecise manner.

[38] Article 1 of the SOCRATES Decision and Article 149 of the Treaty on European Union -- see 1.2.

In higher education, there is no doubt that the programme has helped to facilitate the introduction of reforms in the national systems and to launch a number of Europe-wide initiatives. At national level, SOCRATES does have an influence, on a voluntary basis, on the organisation and architecture of studies. The adoption, for instance, of the system of credits decided or in the process of being decided by a number of European countries (and which can lead to the organisation of module-based studies) is in fact the extension to all "national" students of the ECTS system which emerged from the Erasmus exchanges. The "Erasmus model" of cooperation has moreover made it possible to open up cooperation with American, Canadian, Asian and African universities. Locally, the joint development between partners from different countries of Erasmus-supported European programmes of study has led in the universities involved to an increase in the teaching provision available to all the students enrolled in these establishments and not only to mobile students.

More generally speaking, the resolve to cooperate with partners from other countries and the need to recognise and facilitate Erasmus exchanges has boosted the development everywhere in Europe of a spirit of openness, comparison and acceptance of different situations, a factor which is conducive to major changes and radically innovative initiatives, such as the Bologna declaration [39] designed to introduce a European higher education area. Four of the six objectives in this declaration relate to the strengthening and generalisation of measures and instruments introduced under Erasmus (promoting mobility, extending the ECTS, adopting the diploma supplement, cooperation in the area of quality assurance).

[39] Declaration signed by 31 Ministers of Education on 19 June 1999.

Other SOCRATES actions are more recent and there is therefore no basis for the time being to give as accurate an idea of the impact as in the area of higher education. [40] This question will be further analysed in the years ahead. However, in these areas the transition to a new phase of the programme and the most recent developments in the framework of discussion between Member States in the area of education, at European level, offer grounds for optimism. [41]

[40] In school education, the declaration signed by seven Education Ministers in Florence on 30 September 1999 refers explicitly to the contribution made by the SOCRATES programme to the development of European cooperation in this area.

[41] See 3.1 (trends) for the details.

The promotion within the programme of exchanges of information and experience on the priority themes selected in agreement with the Education Committee has moreover undoubtedly made it possible to steer European cooperation to areas which can make a direct contribution to improving the quality of the national education systems, [42] despite the small portion of the programme budget allocated to this area.

[42] See 2.7 and 3.1. This observation is particularly valid for the work undertaking in the area of quality indicators in education which is based on education research networks which have received a strong boost through Action III.3.1 of the programme.

2.9 Consistency of the programme with other Community actions

The programme sets out to be consistent with other Community actions. Solid cooperation has been established with the research sector through the action "open and distance education". Consistency between the SOCRATES and LEONARDO da VINCI programme is, on the other hand, still difficult for many project promoters. The links with this programme and with the YOUTH programme will have to be strengthened, particularly thanks to the opportunities offered under the new phase of the programme by "joint" actions.

Another feature of the programme is the dual resolve on equal opportunities for boys and girls and for men and women [43] and for "as full a participation as possible of disabled children and adolescents". [44] As to the matter of participation (or not) of disabled persons in the programme, the specific evaluation provides useful pointers for the analysis. The participation of disabled persons is seemed to be insufficient particularly in mobility actions, primarily for practical reasons but reasons which also have to do with a lack of awareness among institutional decision makers and of information among people on the opportunities available under the programme. [45]

[43] Consistent with the objective of incorporating equal opportunities for women and men into all Community policies and activities: Commission communication of 21.2.96 - COM (96) 67 final.

[44] Commission Communication on equality of opportunity for people with disabilities, 30.7.96 - COM 406 final.

[45] This comment is valid particularly in the area of student mobility in view of the resources set aside expressly for the national agencies to facilitate mobility amongst disabled students, as part of a process of integration into education systems.

2.10 Other results

The programme achieved certain results which did not in fact feature explicitly among the objectives of Decision 819/95/EC. This is particularly the case of relations with the employment market. [46] The external evaluation, which dedicates a chapter to the matter of the professional future of Erasmus students, reveal that the latter on average find their first job two months earlier than non-mobile students. Furthermore, they have more frequent opportunities to find a job which has an international dimension.

[46] This matter has become increasingly important in Europe since 1995. The employment chapter of the Amsterdam Treaty takes account of the coordinated employment strategy defined by the special Luxembourg European Council of November 1997. The European employment strategy gives increasing space to the issue of education systems. The conclusions of the special Lisbon Summit of 23 and 24 March 2000 will boost coordination between employment and education policies at the national level within a European framework.

The active participation of representatives from central and eastern Europe in the SOCRATES programme has made it possible to make Europe popular with the education players in the applicant countries, by offering them a tangible opportunity to get to grips with the notion of European citizenship. However, it will be important to heed the point made by the external evaluation that the central European countries are under-represented in certain actions, particularly those concerning teacher mobility.

3. How the programme has evolved: from SOCRATES I to SOCRATES II

The point of this section is bring out some important pointers which can help the programme to progress smoothly all the way to 2006. The suggestions made by the external evaluation reports and which are valid across the board will be taken into account in this section so that they can be discussed. The programme objectives and resources will be reviewed in turn.

3.1 From the point of view of the objectives

All in all, the external evaluation confirms the relevance of the choices made under the new phase of the programme as regards the following points:

- the need, under the new phase of the programme, to combine consolidation of what was achieved under the first phase with opening up to innovation; [47]

[47] In particular, in the areas in which our societies are currently changing most rapidly, e.g. the new information technologies and lifelong learning policies.

- concentrating Community intervention on a small number of objectives and quest for increased consistency between these objectives; [48]

[48] For example, for Comenius: integrating school-specific language actions; consideration of the intercultural education objective across the action as a whole.

- strengthening the links between the actions of the programme and between SOCRATES and other programmes. [49]

[49] Giving priority to increased consistency with the LEONARDO da VINCI programme.

Using this basic observation as a starting point, the external evaluation provides useful elements of analysis on two points:

- the concept of "critical mass". There is no denying the complementarity between actions of mobility and "mass" cooperation targeting as many education players as possible, and more targeted innovative actions intended by way of priority for players acting as "multipliers". However, as the budget is limited, the Commission feels that strategic choices will be essential, taking due account of the elements of analysis available, particularly with regard to trends in the main sources of funding for the actions concerned. The decentralisation of the new phase of the programme offers opportunities which it will be important to utilise to the full in order to enhance the impact of the programme on the national education systems;

- strengthening the links between programme actions must primarily concern the links between the two major actions, i.e. Erasmus and Comenius, which the external evaluation judges to be currently insufficient. This is an important point, particularly for teacher training which is one of the priorities under the new phase of the programme. On a more general level, the point made by the external evaluation concerning the huge prominence of higher education establishments in other actions of the programme [50] will encourage the Commission to actually increase synergy between actions whenever possible. The comment made about certain problems of consistency between the SOCRATES, LEONARDO da VINCI and YOUTH programmes gives legitimacy to the joint actions envisaged under the new phase.

[50] Approximately 50% in Lingua, 60% in ODL.

Moreover, the equal opportunities objectives will have to be better integrated in the programme as a whole. As regards disabled persons, the external evaluation makes many practical suggestions, intended in particular to favour more active participation by these persons in mobility actions. The Commission would like to encourage greater awareness amongst the institutional decision-makers both at European and at national levels. This question must be linked with that of resources particularly in terms of information and of follow-up and evaluation policy. Equal opportunities has been incorporated into the new objective of strengthening the European dimension of education. However, the implementation of this objective will have to be backed up by appropriate operational tools, particularly of a statistical nature.

As regards objectives, it is also essential for the new phase of the programme to regularly ensure that it is consistent with the political agenda the recently increased pace of which reflects the increasingly rapid changes taking place in our societies. Several elements of this type are already in place. [51] The Commission is seeking to strengthen the elements for analysing the impact of the programme on national education policies in order to enhance the impact of the programme nationally, with due regard for the competence of the Member States themselves for the organisation of their education systems.

[51] See in particular the conclusions of the special Lisbon European Council of 23 and 24 March 2000 -- "Towards a Europe based on innovation and knowledge". The Education Council will submit to the European Council in spring 2001 a report on the objectives of the education systems. A "Rolling agenda" was established by an Education Council resolution dated 26 November 1999 giving priority for discussions at the European level of the following themes: mobility, quality, education and employment, lifelong learning, new information technologies. In the language area: European Year in 2001. In that of the new technologies: eLearning initiative. On the quality of education: follow-up of the European report on the quality of school education, adopted by the Commission in May 2000. The matter of links between the SOCRATES programme and the follow-up to the Bologna and Florence declarations is also important.

The impact of SOCRATES on Community policies other than education remains limited. The external evaluation contains a few useful pointers on involvement at the regional level. It is interesting to note, for instance, the very uneven pattern of support from the regions for student mobility grants. In a context of increasing decentralisation of many education systems, the Commission will stimulate discussion of this theme both nationally and within a European framework. [52]

[52] Justifying strengthening of the links between the SOCRATES programme and the Structural Funds which represent one-third of the Community budget and are active in the area of education.

The viewpoints of the "field players" covered by the external evaluation often criticise "Brussels", and will encourage the Commission to strengthen under the new phase of the programme the links not only with all the education players concerned but with all of "civil society" potentially interested by the programme. The second phase of the programme, just like the first, envisages regular consultation with European associations and the social partners in the area of education. [53] The Commission will encourage these associations to promote the programme as it is well aware of the increasing importance of the role of civil society with regard to European integration. [54] This is a matter that also concerns the national agencies which are in contact with the national structures of the European associations.

[53] Information available on the Commission's site: directory of associations and minutes of the latest consultation meetings.

[54] Adoption envisaged in 2001 of a White Paper on European governance.

3.2 From the point of view of the resources deployed

If the programme is to attain its new objectives, it must have appropriate resources. In budgetary terms, the Council and European Parliament have proposed increased resources over a longer period. In this context, the external evaluation observes an increasing gap between the actual cost of certain actions and that covered by the programme budget. For higher education, this question concerns in particular student mobility grants. The matter is also sensitive as regards school education in view of the high number of schools wishing to take part in European cooperation actions. The debate on sources of funding for each action prompts the Commission to consider, for the implementation of national education policies open to the European dimension, the involvement of the participating countries in a spirit of partnership between European and national levels.

The matter of resources also concerns structures. The harmonious implementation of the SOCRATES programme calls for effective cooperation between the European (Commission, Technical Assistance Office) and national (national agencies, establishments) levels. The Commission will on the basis of the critical observations and recommendations of the external evaluation propose the strengthening of the steps already under way to simplify administrative and financial management procedures. This objective is one of the Commission's current priorities for better governance. It will be based on a number of operational instruments which are currently being developed.

The communication policy also needs thorough thought both within the Commission and in the participating countries. Dissemination of good approaches and results based on clearly defined objectives need to be improved. The special needs of disabled persons must also receive better consideration. More generally speaking, the Commission wishes to examine with the Member States how those taking part in the programme can be helped to achieve a better impact nationally and locally in return for their European investment, by laying greater emphasis on the need for multilateral exchanges of experience nationally, locally and Europe-wide.

The Commission will also be eager to take account of the third point of criticism and recommendation in the external evaluation and which concerns the policy on monitoring and evaluating the programme. During the start-up period of the new phase of the programme, the priority will go to regular monitoring of the various programme actions, based on indicators defined at the national and European levels. Monitoring will focus on quantity and quality. Those parts of the programme which could not be covered by the external evaluation in depth during the first phase of the programme will receive priority for specific evaluations in the years ahead. Regular evaluations will also be necessary in order inter alia to better assess interaction between the different actions of the programme and the impact of the programme on the national education systems.


The report hopes to contribute to the success of the second phase of the SOCRATES programme (2000-2006) by highlighting the experience of the first phase. This experience shows that SOCRATES is very successful in that it has contributed to asserting the European dimension throughout education in general. Nevertheless, improvements are needed so as to make programme management more user-friendly. The gap between the programme's objectives, the ambition of which is enthusiastically shared by the education community, and the sometimes inadequate resources for implementation both at European and national levels, must be narrowed. The Commission will accordingly pay close attention to the recommendations made by the external evaluators. The administrative and financial procedures will be simplified, monitoring improved and the results better exploited.

It is also important for the SOCRATES programme, beyond the individuals and institutions actively involved within it, to be able to be more strongly linked than before with the whole of the policy debate taking place at the European level in the area of education. Strengthening this policy dimension of the programme can indeed enable it to contribute effectively to enhancing the quality of the national education systems, with due respect for the responsibilities defined by the Treaty. Spread over a longer period (seven years), the management of its actions decentralised to a greater extent, and underpinned by a more active monitoring and evaluation policy, the new phase of the programme should strengthen the impact of SOCRATES, particularly in the most recent areas of cooperation at European level, e.g. school education and lifelong learning. SOCRATES, as a pioneering programme in opening up to the countries of central and eastern Europe, must also help to pave the way for the next round of enlargement of the EU, the success of which will hinge as much as on the commitment of the policy decision makers as on that of the people.

The success of the second phase largely depends on the human and financial resources allocated to its implementation at national and European level. The programme's increasing decentralisation strongly affects the national agencies and they must have sufficient support from the participating countries. It also concerns all the European institutions through the level of priority which will be given over the next few years to education matters with a view to building up a Europe of knowledge, as called for by the heads of state and government at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000. Lastly, it concerns the national level in strengthening complementarity between SOCRATES and the resources deployed by the Member States to open up their education policies to Europe.



Action 1: help for universities with regard to activities having a European dimension

* Institutional contracts (organisation of student mobility; teacher mobility; European course credit transfer system; preparation of curricula; intensive programmes; preparatory visits)

* Projects developed by the thematic networks

Action 2: student mobility grants


Action 1: school partnerships for European education projects, including teacher exchanges and visits

Action 2: transnational projects concerning the education of the children of migrant workers, and the children of occupational travellers, travellers and gypsies -- intercultural education

Action 3: in-service training, seminars and courses for teachers and education staff


Action A: European cooperation programmes for language teacher training

Action B: in-service training for language teachers

Action C: assistantships for future language teachers

Action D: development of instruments for language teaching/learning and assessment of language skills

Action E: joint education projects for language learning



EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION AND EXPERIENCE ON EDUCATION SYSTEMS AND POLICY (analysis of questions of common interest concerning education policy, Eurydice, Arion, Naric)




ANNEX 3 : ERASMUS STUDENTS 1998/99 by country of origin and by host country


ANNEX 4 : Teacher mobility - Comenius, Erasmus and Lingua actions (1999 calendar year)


*: 1999/2000 academic year

** : data not available

ANNEX 5 : pupil mobility under action Lingua E (1995-1999)

Pupil mobility under Lingua E by country of origin - 1999 (contract year)

// Lingua E

BE // 715

DK // 2336

DE // 3758

GR // 783

ES // 8464

FR // 86

IE // 360

IT // 5706

LU // *

NL // 1345

AT // 736

PT // 1260

FI // 1681

SE // 1809

UK // 3832

IS // 177

LI // 40

NO // 846

CY // *

CZ // 1308

HU // 2455

RO // 689

PL // 1086

SK // 140

LV // 36

EE // 178

LT // 243

BG // 48

SI // 167

TOTAL // 40284

* :data not available

ANNEX 6 : cooperation - institutional contracts , Erasmus action (1999/2000)


[1] places available [4] EM : European modules

[2] CDA : development of advanced curricula [5] ILC : integrated language courses

[3] CDI : development of initial or intermediate curricula [6] ECTS : European Credit Transfer System

ANNEX 7 : cooperation - schools taking part in the European education projects

Comenius 1 and Lingua E actions (1999)


* : data not available