Contemporary issues in youth policy

As an area of youth policy, education and learning relates to the role of formal, non-formal and informal education as means for supporting young people’s personal and professional development. Formal education covers learning in state-regulated schools, training institutions, colleges and universities, with a clearly defined curriculum and rules for certification. It is compulsory up to a certain level, and there is often strict accreditation and professional criteria for its teachers.

While formal education policy is often regarded as a policy area in its own right, youth policy tends to relate specifically to the promotion of non-formal and informal education, and is therefore the focus of this page.

Non-formal education takes place in a wide range of settings. They may be intermittent or transitory, and the activities or courses that take place may be staffed by professional facilitators or volunteer led. The activities and courses are planned, but are seldom structured by curriculum subjects. It is the presence of a purposeful, planned activity that distinguishes non formal learning from informal learning. Informal learning is the learning that occurs in everyday life and is not necessarily intentional.

Non-formal education has been strongly associated with youth work. Although what is considered youth work varies considerably between countries, a number of common features have been identified.

Vocational education and training (VET), or training that emphasises skills and knowledge required for a particular job function, has also increasingly adopted non-formal education methods, with the aim of preparing young people for the labour market, particularly in those countries with rising youth unemployment.

Recognition and validation of non-formal learning is a key policy challenge and there is a need to establish systems that allow individuals to identify, document, assess and certify their non-formal learning in order to support career and educational development.

There are four different kinds of recognition:

  • Formal recognition means the ‘validation’ of learning outcomes and the ‘certification’ of a learning process and/or these outcomes by issuing certificates or diplomas which formally recognise the achievements of an individual
  • Political recognition means the recognition of non-formal education in legislation and/or the inclusion of non-formal learning/education in political strategies, and the involvement of non-formal learning providers in these strategies
  • Social recognition means that social players acknowledge the value of competences acquired in non-formal settings and the work done within these activities, including the value of the organisations providing this work
  • Self-recognition means the assessment by the individual of learning outcomes and the ability to use these learning outcomes in other fields.

The promotion of learning mobility is another important youth policy area. Learning mobility takes place in the frame of exchange programmes with the aim of promoting and developing personal and professional competences, communication, interpersonal and intercultural skills, and active citizenship among others. The European Platform on Leaning Mobility define learning mobility as “transnational mobility undertaken for a period of time, consciously organised for educational purposes or to acquire new competences ... implemented in formal or non-formal settings”.

Throughout all forms of education, there are also a number of challenges related to inclusion. Young people from marginalised backgrounds are often at risk of leaving education early, having lower educational attainment, and less access to non-formal educational opportunities.

The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Recommendation 2003(8) calls on member states to “work towards the development of effective standards of recognition of non-formal education/learning as an essential part of general education and vocational training”. The Council of the European Union adopted on 22 May 2018 a revised recommendation on key competences for lifelong learning. Key competences are a dynamic combination of the knowledge, skills and attitudes a learner needs to develop throughout life, starting from early age onwards. The recommendation defined the competences each European citizen needs for personal fulfilment and development, employment, social inclusion and active citizenship. It invited Member States to ensure that their education and training systems are able to equip people with these competences.

The Council of Europe also works with the concept of education for democratic citizenship, that is education, training, awareness-raising, information, practices and activities which aim, by equipping learners with knowledge, skills and understanding and developing their attitudes and behavior, to empower them to exercise and defend their democratic rights and responsibilities in society, to value diversity and to play an active part in democratic life, with a view to the promotion and protection of democracy and the rule of law. It shows people how to become informed about their rights, responsibilities and duties and it helps them to realise that they can have influence and make a difference.

Recommended Resources

Council of Europe: Recommendation Rec(2003)8 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the promotion and recognition of non-formal education/learning of young people

Council of the European Union: Revised recommendation on key competences for lifelong learning. May 2018

European Centre for the development of vocational training : Validation of non formal and informal learning

Council of Europe: Competences for Democratic Culture

Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)7 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education

European Commission: A Memorandum on Lifelong Learning (2000)

EU Commitment to enhanced European cooperation on VET affirmed in the Copenhagen Declaration (2002), and the Riga Conclusions (2015).


This page was last updated by Cristina Bacalso and Dan Moxon in December 2018
and includes text taken from Bacalso, C., 2017,"Themes",
Symposium: Youth Policy Responses to the Contemporary Challenges Faced by Young People,
EU-CoE youth partnership and the Chairmanship of the Czech Republic of the Council of Europe,
Prague, Czech Republic, 12-14 June 2017

Young people’s views

Youth Goal #8 “Quality Learning”, calls for Europe to:

Integrate and improve different forms of learning, equipping young people for the challenges of an ever-changing life in the 21st century.

The goal identifies that “education remains a key for active citizenship, inclusive society and employability. That is why we need to enlarge our vision about education for the 21st century, focusing more on transferable skills, student-centered learning and non-formal education to achieve a truly equal and universal access to quality learning.”