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EQF, DG EMPL and PIAAC? European adult education policy is full of confusing acronyms and specialised vocabulary.

Learning & teaching

Glossary: Adult education policy in Europe

Authors: Helka Repo Published:

EQF, DG EMPL and PIAAC? European adult education policy is full of confusing acronyms and specialised vocabulary.

Do you want to be able to hold a conversation about adult education policy in Europe? Memorise the main terms, instruments and tools guiding European adult education policy from this glossary.

Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG EAC)

The European Commission’s department responsible for EU policy on education, culture, youth, languages and sport. Adult education is partly directed from DG EAC.

Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL)

The European Commission’s department responsible for employment and social inclusion. The European Commission decided to move the unit responsible for coordinating adult education from DG EAC to DG EMPL in 2015. The transfer was interpreted, and occasionally criticised, by adult education organisations as the Commission wanting to emphasise the relationship between adult education and employability and work life skills over other benefits..

Education and Training 2020

Each EU country is responsible for its own education and training systems. The EU supports national education policy and provides guidelines for addressing common challenges, such as ageing societies, skills deficits in the workforce and digitalisation. Education and training 2020 (ET 2020) is the strategic framework for cooperation in education and training. ET 2020 was established in 2009. It sets objectives for EU member states until 2020. These objectives include:

  • Making lifelong learning and mobility a reality
  • Improving the quality and efficiency of education and training
  • Promoting equality, social cohesion, and active citizenship
  • Enhancing creativity and innovation, including entrepreneurship, at all levels of education and training

The Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE)

A multilingual online portal focused on adult education. In the portal, anyone interested in adult education can share good practices, events and news concerning adult education.


A European funding programme for education and training at all levels. The programme funds mobilities and partner projects for adult educators.

EU benchmarks for 2020

Benchmarks set by the ET2020 for EU member states to attain by 2020. These are:

  • At least 95% of children (from 4 to compulsory school age) should participate in early childhood education
  • fewer than 15% of 15-year-olds should be under-skilled in reading, mathematics and science
  • the rate of early leavers from education and training aged 18-24 should be below 10%
  • at least 40% of people aged 30-34 should have completed some form of higher education
  • at least 15% of adults should participate in lifelong learning
  • at least 20% of higher education graduates and 6% of 18–34-year-olds with an initial vocational qualification should have spent some time studying or training abroad
  • the share of employed graduates (aged 20-34 with at least upper secondary education attainment and having left education 1-3 years ago) should be at least 82%.

European Education Area

The European Commission’s proposal to promote education as a means of job creation, economic growth and social fairness. The idea of the proposal is to establish a European Education Area by 2025 to ensure that people in the EU area have easier access to jobs and education. This means, for example, boosting mobilities, the mutual recognition of diplomas, language learning, and a quality framework for early childhood education and care. The proposal was announced in 2017.

European Pillar of Social Rights

European Commission’s proposal that sets out 20 key principles and rights to support equal opportunities in the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection in the euro area. It was proclaimed in 2017.

European Social Fund

The European Commission’s funding programme to promote employment and social inclusion. It can also fund adult education projects.

European Qualifications Framework (EQF)

A policy initiative to relate different countries’ national education qualifications systems to a common European reference framework.

Key competences

Basic set of knowledge, skills and attitudes which all individuals need for personal fulfilment and development, active citizenship, social inclusion and employment defined by the European Commission. These include communication in the mother tongue and a foreign language, mathematical competences and digital competences.

Learning mobility

Opportunity provided by the Erasmus+ programme that enables learners, teachers or trainers to travel to another EU country to study, work, teach, train or develop professional skills and competences. Known in the Erasmus+ programme as Key Action 1.


The acronym for “Massive Open Online Courses”. A massive open online course is an online course with no limited participation and open access via the internet.

New Skills Agenda

The European Commission’s strategy to improve the skills of European adults. The agenda presents 10 actions to make the right training, skills and support available to people in the EU. It was launched in 2016.


The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) produces the Survey of Adult Skills. The survey measures adults’ proficiency in literacy, numeracy and digital technology.

The Renewed European Agenda for adult learning

A vision by the European Commission of how adult learning should develop in Europe by 2020. Specific priorities for the period 2015–2020 include coherence of adult learning with other policy areas, supply and take-up of adult learning provision, widened access to adult education and quality assurance.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

Universal goals set by the United Nations to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. SDG 4 aims at ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Upskilling Pathways

A recommendation by the European Commission that targets adults with low level of skills and with a need to strengthen basic skills.  It aims to help adults acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital skills. The responsibility to implement the recommendation lies with the EU member states.

Validation (of prior learning)

A process that confirms that an individual has acquired the learning outcomes required in the given set of standards. Recognition or validation of prior learning means an individual can replace, for example, compulsory courses with prior learning.

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Helka Repo is a writer and the Communications Officer of the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA), a partner of Elm Magazine. Contact:; @HelkaRepo, Show all articles by Helka Repo
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