Ken Skates, Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology
I represented the UK in the EU Education and Youth Council on 25 November, where I was able to promote what we are doing on digital learning and youth employment. While this was not the first time a Minister from the Welsh Government has represented the UK, it is the first time during the term of this administration and with the current UK Government.
As education and youth are devolved, it is only right that Welsh Ministers from time to time represent the UK at EU level and the current system works well. I received excellent support from the UK Permanent Representation and full co-operation from UK Government Departments.
What was clear from the EU Education Council is that our pro-active and confident approach on digital learning contrasts with some Member States’ reticence to embrace its opportunities. On the priorities for EU-level work on youth that we discussed in the Youth Council, Ministers agreed that the focus should be on mainstreaming youth issues across policy areas, and on empowerment, democratic engagement and employment. I underlined the importance of traineeships, apprenticeships and the success of schemes such as Jobs Growth Wales.
In the margins of the Council I met Parliamentary State Secretary to the German Federal Minister of Education and Research, Dr Helga Braun, to discuss apprenticeships. Issues raised by Dr Braun included that Germany was encouraging young people to move to regions experiencing a high demand for apprentices and focusing resource on early intervention to prevent young people dropping out of school.
While in Brussels I also met Xavier Prats Monné, the Deputy Director General of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education and Culture (since promoted to Director General) and Jonathan Hill, the Deputy Head of the private office of Education and Youth Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou. In these exchanges I updated both on our skills agenda, our plans regarding the European Social Fund and emphasised the Welsh Government’s unequivocal commitment to the European Union.
I highlighted our ambition to work with stakeholders in Wales, such as the British Council and the European Commission Office in Cardiff, to increase participation levels in Erasmus +. I will work with the Minister for Education and Skills to raise awareness of Erasmus + in schools so that pupils are aware of the opportunities that exist before becoming further or higher education students. I will also take advantage of Director Monne’s offer to help us disseminate information about the new programme. I emphasised the importance of Welsh language projects being able to access Erasmus +.
Deputy Director General Monné was interested in what makes Jobs Growth Wales successful and I promised to send him our forthcoming evaluation of the initiative. We discussed apprenticeships and I have asked my officials to explore the benefits of involvement in the European Apprenticeship Alliance, which aims to increase visibility, stakeholder engagement and funding. It was also interesting to hear that he anticipated the focus of the next Commission being the regional impact of policies.
In addition, Jonathan Hill raised the European Institute for Innovation and Technology and I will discuss with the EST Minister the potential for future involvement.
I also met officials who lead on youth unemployment in the European Commission and told them about our intention to organise a European conference on youth unemployment in Wales next year and I was pleased that they, along with Mr Monné, agreed to participate and provide policy input. I took the opportunity to inform the officials from the Commission’s Employment Directorate about our Youth Guarantee and the Youth Engagement and Progression Framework.
Finally, I spoke at a reception in the European Parliament, co-organised by the Welsh Government EU office, British Council Wales and Welsh Higher Education Brussels and hosted by Dr Kay Swinburne MEP. I focused on the areas of world-leading research and teaching in Welsh Higher Education Institutions, highlighting British Council Wales’ new report on this topic, and the sector’s internationalism. Our new Chief Scientific Advisor Julie Williams – who also had a very fruitful visit to Brussels – talked about the Welsh Government’s support structures. The other speaker was Professor Yves-Alain Barde, Ser Cymru Research Chair in Neurobiology. He praised the efficiency of Cardiff University in expediting his move to Wales, the (former) CSA for the concept of Ser Cymru and the Welsh Government for listening and implementing it. This event was a wonderful showcase for the Welsh Government and our HE sector and I was delighted to work alongside Kay Swinburne to promote Wales in Brussels.