Theo W. Länge, Arbeit und Leben
Serge Noel Domenico, Cesep Ceseos
Paprella Laurent Assathiany, Culture et Liberté
Juni 2000

Paid Educational Leave in Europe – A Recommendation

In the following, continuing education is taken to mean both general, social and cultural further education as well as vocational and professional training.


Lifelong learning is more vital than ever if we are to come terms with the changes which are occurring both within Europe and on a global scale. Our joint Socrates initiative " Paid Educational Leave in Europe - A Strategy for Lifelong Learning ?" took as its focus the question whether paid educational leave can provide a strategy for life long learning.

The following recommendation is the outcome of a 2 year project completed on 31.8. 2000 by the central office of ARBEIT UND LEBEN (Germany) - Centre Socialiste d'Education Permanente - C.E.S.E.P. (Belgium), Culture et Liberté (France) and Centro Studi Economici Sociali e Sindacali - CESOS (Italy).

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The recommendation is intended for European institutions, member states, regional and local authorities, social partners and last but not least adult education providing bodies themselves. We call upon these parties to contribute towards the establishment of the right for all citizens of Europe to paid educational leave of their own choice.


ILO Convention 140 dated 24.6.1974 states that "scientific and technological change and the transformation of economic and social relationships necessitate appropriate measures for leave for the purpose of education and professional training"(Preamble). In the early seventies the ILO was the first transnational body to concern itself with sabbatical study leave making reference to the Fundamental Declaration of Human Rights. Sabbatical study leave or paid educational leave (PEL) was subsequently defined as leave "granted to the employee for educational purposes for a specified period during work time and with the payment of appropriate financial benefits" (Article 1)." Study leave should be granted for the purpose of vocational/professional training and general and political education"(Article 2).

To date 8 countries have ratified this Convention.

Some 25 years later on 23/4 March 2000 the Council of Ministers meeting in Lisbon revisited the issue of continuing education in the context of a debate about strategic goals for Europe. A "higher priority was to be given to lifelong learning as an integral part of the European Social Model". In order to bring this about a strategy is necessary which can promote a continuous interchange between work and learning.

Lifelong learning has a key role to play not only in terms of the realisation of individual opportunity but also in terms of the development of Europe. The process of political and cultural integration and structural change both in the economy and society and the development of the Single Market and reform of the institutions of the EU all provide Europe with new opportunities. All of this requires however an intensification of the democratic process. The pace of political, social and technological change necessitates that we continually acquire new skills, knowledge and abilities. If there is to be continuing and evenly-balanced development of not only vocational and professional but also socio-political, cultural and linguistic competence, varied forms of life long learning are going to be necessary.

Educational Leave for Life long Learning in Europe

Participation in continuing education and training greatly depends on the educational and professional background of the individual concerned. Here too we can observe the reproduction of socio-economic, gender-specific and ethnic disadvantage.

If political, social and economic opportunities for development in Europe are not to be wasted, then lifelong learning opportunities for every European citizen must be strengthened by improvements in basic education on the one hand and in the framework for continuing education on the other.

This will require a greater uptake of continuing education on the part of individuals as well as increased efforts on the part of providing bodies and the social partners in the promotion of lifelong learning. Part of these efforts will need to involve the development of a variety of concepts and curricula, learning centres and flexible study arrangements.

An individual right to paid educational leave which grants workers release can generate the necessary available time for people to engage in continuing education. It has to be seen as an indispensable component of any concept of life long learning in Europe.

Paid educational leave (PEL) provides the opportunity for workers to develop their personal, social and professional perspectives away from the daily pressures of work and in a way which transcends the simple acquisition of vocational competence. PEL should not be viewed primarily as a tool to improve business efficiency. It must be seen as part of model of continuing education which embraces all forms of curricula including specifically questions of social cohesion and gender inequality.

Such a right would enable disadvantaged and underrepresented groups in the population to participate in continuing education. Because of persistent structural inequality in many parts of our societies this is a challenge which is as critical as ever.

Principles for Paid Educational Leave in Europe

Only 8 members states of the European Union have systems of paid educational leave. Because of existing shortcomings in these systems and low participation rates, PEL in Europe has not fulfilled its potential. The reasons for this have to do with poor publicity, transparency and advice, resistance from employers and fear of job insecurity on the part of those workers who enjoy such rights. In many cases there has been a lack of political will on the part of the political institutions to make PEL a more effective tool in a life long learning strategy. Last but not least we must question whether the current curriculum on offer is sufficiently attractive to potential learners.

Consequently we would commend the following principles for a system of paid educational leave in Europe :

Levels of action and demands

European institutions

We call upon the Commission to strengthen its efforts by promoting projects which are concerned with best practice in continuing education in the context of PEL. We further call upon the Commission to draft a Directive on paid educational leave. This should be drafted using the social dialogue procedure involving employers and trade unions.

The European Parliament should ratify ILO Convention 140 and thereby document the importance of paid educational leave within continuing education policy as a whole. Lifelong learning and its necessary preconditions should be incorporated into the European Social Charta.

Member States

We call upon each member state to enact legislation in accordance with principles laid out in this recommendation. In addition they should strengthen their efforts to create and promote comprehensive systems of continuing education.

We recommend that continuing education which focuses on individual development is given parity status with other more vocationally oriented further education. We further call upon member states to grant tax advantages and reductions in social insurance contributions to employers who promote paid educational leave. This should also apply to companies which appoint relief staff to cover those on study leave.

Regional and local authorities

We call upon these to strengthen their commitment to PEL by initiating specific programmes of support. Particular emphasis should be placed upon the establishment of local learning centres and a comprehensive advisory service offering for example individual needs analysis and learning plans, and the evaluation and accreditation of acquired competences and skills. There should be a diverse range of curriculum and providing bodies.

We further recommend the creation of learning networks. They should be supported in offering specific courses for individual learning plans as part of PEL


Companies should be interested in having employees who are socially as well as vocationally skilled. Consequently we call upon them to support and promote PEL by removing any obstacles in their schemes which might discriminate against those who would otherwise take leave.

Providing bodies

We call upon those institutions and providing bodies in continuing education to orient their activity towards public interest in lifelong learning in Europe. Their involvement is much greater than short term response to the market demands for continuing education. Further, within the context of paid educational leave they should develop educational and advisory programmes which are much more individual oriented providing for example competency and needs analysis, and learning and careers guidance. This is particularly important for those groups of the population which are currently disenfranchised from the system.

Theo W. Länge/Serge Noel Domenico/Paprella Laurent Assathiany: Paid Educational Leave in Europe – A Recommendation – URL:
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