Success in Brussels - 3 May 2011

...Joint Norwegian-Hungarian Training Project is an Example to Follow

Among the history of the EEA/Norwegian Financial Mechanism Hungary was the first country to have the privilege to present a Hungarian project as a best practice project to the experts of the Financial Mechanism Office in May 2011.

In the 27 EU member states Hungary has the lowest number of citizens taking part in adult education. Numbers are especially low among the permanently unemployed, the elderly and those with basic primary education. To improve the situation the Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning "VOX" and the Hungarian Association for Life Long Learning joined forces to create the project "Initiation of Learning Partnerships".

The investment created nine training centres to increase the employment ratio in Hungary. The centres provide learning opportunities for adults who only have basic education or who are unskilled, in the country's least developed regions. The learning centres are deployed in areas with exceptionally high unemployment rate.

As a result of the funds of HUF 180 million the centres can have a positive effect on social integration and community development, and they may contribute to skills and employability development on local level. 

As association advisor Zoltán Várkonyi said in Brussels that entry requirements were set to be easy to fulfil and a flexible training environment was created that is accessible for anyone. He highlighted that each centre has programs specifically focusing on those skills that are important on local level. He emphasized that in a half year period 780 adults taking part in the program received a competence certificate and, what is more important, a new skill, boosting their self-confidence. The training focuses on basic competences such as digital communication, foreign languages, or entrepreneurial skills.

Close cooperation between project partners also contributed to the success of the investment. Cooperation helped the partners considerably in overcoming initial challenges. "Project start required increased efforts" Várkonyi said, but he emphasized that perseverance will bear fruit as close cooperation enables parties to join forces and multiplies positive results.

Graciela Sbertoli from VOX explained that mutual trust of the partners is priceless from the perspective of future cooperation. Sbertoli said that the European Basic Skills Network (EBSN, an international organization for adult basic skills development), which contributed vastly to EU policy development in this field, recognises the project as a best practice. She added that the cooperation so far provides a solid basis for joint projects and new support opportunities in the future.

Support schemes EEA/Norwegian Financial Mechanism were initiated by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein in 2004 to help establishing social and economic cohesion in the enlarged European Economic Area. Respective cooperation agreements were signed in 2005. These define the legal and financial framework for the Financial Mechanism, grant forms and priority and target areas, the actual institutions assigned to tasks, the questions of reporting and monitoring, and the regulating principles.

To address shortages in provision for adult learning in Hungary, nine open learning centres were established in 2010 in disadvantaged areas of the country.

Supported by the EEA and Norway Grants, a network bringing together the nine centres is now up and running through joint action from Norwegian and Hungarian project partners.

Hungary has the lowest level of participation in adult education of the EU-27 member countries, particularly amongst groups with poor levels of education, the elderly and the long-term unemployed. A traditional emphasis on formal qualifications has meant that the benefits of non-formal and informal learning have not always been recognised. Compounded by insufficient public resources and a lack of support from the business sector, this has resulted in a serious deficit in infrastructure provision for adult education.

To tackle this, the Hungarian Association of Lifelong Learning (ALLL) teamed up with the Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning (VOX) to establish the Network of Open Learning Centres entitled the ‘Learning Partnership Initiatives”. With backing of €650,000 from the EEA and Norway Grants, the project has had a positive impact on social inclusion and community development, as well as helped to improve skills and boost employability at a local level.

Flexible solutions, tangible results

The centres are located in areas struggling with high unemployment rates and social deprivation. Zoltán Várkonyi from ALLL emphasises the need for an open approach to local learning to attract as many participants as possible and, in particular, reach out to often-excluded groups. “We wanted a low entry threshold where the learning environment is flexible and easily accessible to all,” he said.

He explains how each centre operates tailored programmes focusing on skills which are relevant for the local area. “Each centre works out competence development programmes in tandem with the local municipalities to ensure that the training offer matches the needs in the local area.”

As a result, over 780 participants have been through the doors in the last six months, gaining not only a competence certificate, but more importantly fresh skills and higher self-esteem by the end of their training. The training focuses on developing core competences, such as digital communications, foreign languages and entrepreneurial skills.

A model concept

Another factor underpinning the success of the project is the close cooperation between the project partners. "We have built up an enormous amount of trust," said Graciela Sbertoli of VOX. She explains how this is invaluable for future joint working, adding: "We can now pull each other into other projects and explore other funding avenues knowing we that have a strong partnership already in place." This joint working was crucial in helping to overcome initial challenges and for working through the funding process together. "It takes perseverance to get a project off the ground," says Várkonyi, but underlines that persistence pays off: "You multiply your strengths by co-operation."

Ms Sbertoli also envisages the development of a wider community of local learning centres. With the project already recognised as a good practice model within the European Basic Skills Network – an organisation which makes a valuable contribution to EU policy development in this field – she sees great scope for exporting the concept further afield and embedding some of the lessons in wider policy provision for adult education in Europe.

Photo: Guri M. Smenes, Royal Norwegian Embassy, Budapest

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