What Has Become of the European Talent Network? Part Two

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This is the second and concluding part of a post about progress by the European Talent Centre towards a European Talent Network.

EU flag CapturePart One:

  • Provided an updated description of the Hungarian model for talent support and its increasingly complex infrastructure.
  • Described the origins of the European Talent project and how its scope and objectives have changed since its inception and.
  • Outlined the project’s initial advocacy effort within the European Commission.

This second episode describes the evolution of the model for the European Network, continues the history of its advocacy effort and reviews the progress Flag_of_Hungarymade by the European Centre in Budapest towards achieving its aims.

It concludes with an overall assessment of progress that highlights some key fault lines and weaknesses that, if addressed, would significantly improve the chances of overall success.

Initial Efforts to Design the European Network

A Draft Talent Points Plan 

At the 2012 ECHA Conference in Munster, a draft ‘Talent Points Plan’ was circulated which set out proposed criteria for EU Talent Points.

The following entities qualify for inclusion on the EU Talent Map:

  • ‘an already existing at least 2 year-old network connected to talent support
  • organizations/institutions focusing mainly on talent support: research, development, identification (eg schools, university departments, talent centers, excellence centers etc)
  • policy makers on national or international level (ministries, local authorities)
  • NGOs
  • business corporation with talent management programs (talent identification, corporate responsibility programs, creative climates)
  • parent organizations of gifted and talented children.’

But only organisations count as EU Talent Points. Each:

  • ‘has a strategy/action plan connected to talent (identification, support, research, carrier planning, etc…)
  • is willing to share at least one best/good practice, research results, video
  • is willing to share information on talent support (programs, conferences, talent days)
  • is open to be visited by other network members
  • is open to cooperate
  • accepts English as a common language while communicating in the network
  • is willing to update the data of home page 2 times/year.’ [sic]

My feedback on this draft urged a more flexible, inclusive approach – similar to what had been proposed earlier – as well as an online consultation of stakeholders to find out what they wanted from the Centre and the wider network.

Curiously, the ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ publication that was also distributed at the Conference took a somewhat different line, suggesting a more distributed network in which each country has its own Talent Support Centre:

‘The Talent Support Centres of the European countries could serve as regional hubs of this network building a contact structure going beyond their own country, while the core elements of our unique network could be the so-called European Talent Points… European Talent Centres are proposed to be registered by the Committee of the European Council of High Ability… A European Talent Centre should be an organization or a distinct part of a larger organization established for this purpose.

This is a pronounced shift from the ‘networked hubs’ proposed previously.

The publication goes on to set out ‘proposed requirements for a European Talent Centre’. Each:

  • ‘has an expertise of at least one year to coordinate the talent support activity of minimum 10 thousand persons 
  • has minimum two full-time employees who are dedicated to the tasks listed below 
  • is able to provide high quality information on theoretical and practical issues of gifted education and talent support
  • is able to keep records on the talent support activity of its region including the registration, help and coordination of European Talent Points and making this information available on the web (in the form of a Talent Support Map of the region)
  • is willing to cooperate with other European Talent Centres and with ECHA
  • is willing and able to coordinate joint actions, international events, Talent Days and other meetings in the field of talent support
  • is open to be visited by representatives, experts, talented young people of other European Talent Centres
  • is able to help and influence decisions on regional, national and/or European policies concerning the gifted and talented.’

The document also offers an alternative version of the criteria for European Talent Points.

Whereas the draft I began with specified that only organisations could be placed on the EU Talent Map, this version offers a more liberal interpretation, saying that Talent Points may be:

  • ‘organizations/institutions focusing mainly on talent support: research, development, identification (e. g: schools, university departments, talent centres, excellence centres, NGOs, etc.)
  • talent-related policy makers on national or international level [sic] (ministries, local authorities)
  • business corporation with talent management programs (talent identification, corporate responsibility programs, creative climate)
  • organizations of gifted and talented people
  • organizations of parents of gifted and talented children, or
  • umbrella organization (network) of organizations of the above types’

Talent points are to be registered (not accredited) by the appropriate European talent centres, but it appears that the centres would not enjoy discretion in such matters because there is a second set of proposed requirements:

  • ‘Has a strategy/action plan connected to talent (identification, support, research, career planning, etc.)
  • Is able and willing to share information on its talent support practices and other talent-related matters with other European Talent Points (programs, conferences, Talent Days) including sending the necessary data to a European Talent Centre and sharing at least one best practice/research result on the web
  • Is open to cooperate with other European Talent Points including the hosting of visiting representatives, talented young people from other European Talent Points.’

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Problems with the Talent Points Plan

‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ stipulates – for no apparent reason – that a European Talent Centre has to be an organisation or part of an organisation established specifically for this purpose. It cannot be subsumed seamlessly into the existing responsibilities of an organisation.

There is no reference to funding to cover the cost of this activity, so that is presumably to be provided, or at least secured, by the organisation in question.

The criteria for European centres seem to be seeking to clone the Budapest Centre. To locate one in every European country – so roughly 50 countries – would be a tall order indeed, requiring a minimum of 100FTE employees.

The impact on the role and responsibilities of the Budapest Centre is not discussed. What would it do in this brave new world, other than to cover Hungary’s contribution to the network?

The only justification for ECHA’s involvement is presumably the reference earlier in ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’:

‘Stemming from its traditions – and especially due to its consultative status as a non-governmental organization (NGO) at the Council of Europe –ECHA has to stand in the forefront in building a European Talent Support Network; a network of all people involved in talent support.’

ECHA News carries a report of the minutes of an ECHA committee meeting held in April 2013:

‘It was suggested that ECHA should be an accrediting organization for European Talent Centres and Talent Points. In the following discussion it was concluded that (1) it might be possible to establish a special accrediting committee; (2) Talent Centres would decide where Talent Points can be; (3) the proposal for European Talent Centres and European Talent Points criteria would be sent to additional key ECHA members (including National Correspondents) as discussion material. Criteria will be decided later.’

So ECHA would have control of the decision which entities could become European Talent Centres. This is despite the fact that ECHA is an entirely separate membership organisation with no formal responsibility for the EU Talent initiative.

This is not a sensible arrangement.

There is no explanation of why the network itself could not accredit its own members.

Turning back to the proposed requirements for European talent centres, these must be minimum requirements since there would otherwise be no need for an accreditation committee to take decisions.

Presumably the committee might impose its own additional criteria, to distinguish, for example, between two competing proposals for the same region.

The requirement for a year’s experience in relation to ‘co-ordinating’ talent support activity for at least 10,000 people is not explained. What exactly does it mean?

It might have been better to avoid quantitative criteria altogether. Certainly it is questionable whether even the present centre in Budapest meets this description.

And why the attempt to control inputs – the reference to at least two full-time staff – rather than outcomes? Surely the employment of sufficient staff is a matter that should be left to the centre’s discretion entirely.

The broad idea of a distributed network rather than a Budapest-centred network is clearly right, but the reasoning that puts ECHA in a controlling position with regard to the network is out of kilter with that notion, while the criteria themselves are inflexible and unworkable, especially since there is no budget attached to them.

When it comes to the talent points there are clear conflicts between the two versions. The first set of criteria outlined above is the more onerous. They propose an exclusive – rather than illustrative – list of those that can be included on the EU Talent Map.

Additionally they add that existing networks can feature on the map, but only if they are at least two years old! And they stipulate an additional English language requirement and biannual updating of their website homepage.

Only an entity with some serious difficulties could manage to share two sets of different draft criteria – each with its own profound problems – at precisely the same time!

Hungary budapest by night

Budapest by Night

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The EU Advocacy Effort Continues

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What Became of the Written Declaration?

Written Declarations are designed to stimulate debate. Once submitted by MEPs they are printed in all official EU languages and entered into a register. There is then a three month window in which other MEPs may sign them.

Those attracting signatures from a majority of MEPs are announced by the President in a plenary session of the European Parliament and forwarded for consideration to the bodies named in the text.

Those that do not attract sufficient signatures officially lapse.

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The archive of written declarations shows that – despite the revisions outlined above and the best efforts of all those lobbying (including me) – WD 0034/2012 lapsed on 20 February 2013 having attracted 178 signatures. Since there are some 750 MEPs, that represents less than 25% of the total.

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A Parliamentary Hearing

As part of this ultimately unsuccessful lobbying effort, the Hungarian MEP who – along with three colleagues – submitted the Written Declaration also hosted a Parliamentary Hearing on the support of talents in the European Union.

The programme lists the speakers as:

  • Anneli Pauli, a Finn, formerly a Deputy Director General of the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Directorate.
  • Laszlo Andor, a Hungarian and EU Commissioner for employment, social affaris and inclusion. (Any contribution he made to the event is not included in the record, so he may or may not have been there.)
  • Peter Csermely. The current ECHA President and the man behind the EU Talent Centre.

There was no-one from the Commission’s Education Directorate involved.

The record of proceedings makes interesting reading, highlighting the Written Declaration, the economic value of talent development to the EU, the contribution it can make to research and innovation, the scope to support the inclusion of immigrants and minorities and the case for developing the European network.

Pauli is reported as saying that:

‘Talents are the heart of the future EU’s research area, thus they will work hard on it that the Horizon 2020 will offer enough support to them.’ [sic]

Horizon 2020 is the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. There is no explicit home for talent support within the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme, so it remains to be seen how this will materialise in practice.

She also says:

‘…that school education on talents and the creative education in school sciences should be strengthened’ [sic]

This presumably carried rather less authority considering her role – and considering that, as we have seen, the Declaration was framed exclusively in terms of ‘non-formal learning’.

There is little explicit reference to the specifics of the European Talent project other than that:

‘…EU-wide talent-support units are needed, Europren [sic] Talent Points Network, a European Talent Day could be organised, or even a Year of Excellence and Talents could be implemented in the future too.’

We are not told how well attended the hearing was, nor do we have any information about its influence.

Only 13 more MEPs signed the WD between the Hearing and the deadline, and that was that.

An EU Thematic Working Group on Talent Support?

The 2013 publication ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ puts the best possible spin on the Written Declaration and the associated Hearing.

It then continues:

‘Confirming the importance of WD 34/2012, an EU Thematic Working Group on supporting talent and creativity was initiated by Prof. Péter Csermely. As a starting activity, the EU Thematic Working Group will work out the detailed agenda of discussions and possible EU member state co-operation in the area of talent support. This agenda may include items like:

  • Mutual information on measures to promote curricular and extra-curricular forms of talent support, including training for educational professionals to recognise and help talent;
  • Consideration of the development of an EU member state talent support network bringing together talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres in order to facilitate co-operation and the development and dissemination of the best talent support practices in Europe;
  • Consideration of celebration of the European Day of Talented;
  • Suggestions to the Commission to include talent support as a priority in future European strategies, such as the strategies guiding the European Research Area and the European Social Fund.’

The proposed status of this group is not discussed, so it is unclear whether it will be an expert group under the aegis of the Commission, or an independent group established with funding from Erasmus Plus or another EU programme.

If it is the latter, we will have to wait some time for it to be established; if it is the former, it does not yet feature in the Commission’s Register.

In either case, we are some nine months on from the publication of the document that brought us this news and there is still no indication of whether this group exists, when it will start work or who its membership is/will be.

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A European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Opinion

At about the same time as a draft Written Declaration was circulated in January 2012, the Bureau of the EU’s European Economic and Social Committee was recommending that the Committee proper should undertake a fresh programme of ‘own initiative opinions’ (so the weakest category of NLA).

These included:

‘Unleashing the potential of young people with high intellectual abilities in the European Union’

Although the development process was undertaken during 2012, the final opinion was not published until January 2013.

The EESC describes itself thus:

‘The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a consultative body that gives representatives of Europe’s socio-occupational interest groups and others, a formal platform to express their points of views on EU issues. Its opinions are forwarded to the Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament.’

Its 353 members are nominated by member governments and belong to an employers’ group, a workers’ group or a ‘various interests’ group. There are six sections, one of which is ‘Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship’ (SOC).

EESC opinions are prepared by study groups which typically comprise 12 members including a rapporteur. Study groups may make use of up to four experts.

I cannot trace a relationship between the EESC’s opinion and the European Talent initiative.

The latter’s coverage does not mention any involvement and there is no information on the EU side about who prompted the process.

The focus of the opinion – high intellectual ability – is markedly out of kilter with the broader talent focus of the Talent Network, so it is highly likely that this activity originated elsewhere.

If that is the case then we can reasonably conclude that the European Talent initiative has not fulfilled its original commitment to an NLA.

Diligent online researchers can trace the development of this Opinion from its earliest stages through to eventual publication. There is a database of the key documents and also a list of the EESC members engaged in the process.

As far as I can establish the group relied on a single expert – one Jose Carlos Gibaja Velazquez, who is described as Subdirección General de Centros de Educación Infantil, Primaria y Especial Comunidad de Madrid’.

The link between JCBV and the EESC is explained here (translation into English here). I can find no link between Senor Gibaja and the EU Talent Network.

EESC members of the study group were:

  • Beatrice Quin France)
  • Teresa Tsizbierek (Pol)

An Early Draft of the Opinion

The earliest version of the Opinion is included an information memo dated 7 January. This also cites the significance of the Europe 2020 Strategy:

‘One of the top priorities of the Europe 2020 Strategy is to promote smart growth, so that knowledge and innovation become the two key drivers of the European economy. In order to reach this goal, it is essential that the European Union take advantage of the potential of the available human capital, particularly of young people with high intellectual capacities, who make up around 3% of the population.’

But it is clearly coming from a different perspective to the EU Talent Centre, which isn’t mentioned.

The ‘gist of the opinion’ at this early stage is as follows:

‘The EESC recommends that the European Commission and the Member States support further studies and research that would tap the potential of gifted children and young people in a wide variety of fields, aiming to facilitate employment and employability within the framework of the EU and, in a context of economic crisis, enhance specialist knowledge and prevent brain drain;

  • The Committee recommends that, in the future, greater consideration be given to each Member State’s existing models for and experience in working with highly gifted children, particularly those which benefit all of society, facilitate cohesion, reduce school failure and encourage better education in accordance with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy;
  • The Committee proposes improving educational care for children and young people with high abilities, in terms of the following aspects:

-          initial and ongoing training of teaching staff regarding the typical characteristics of highly able students, as well as the detection and educational care they need;

-          pooling of procedures for the early detection of high intellectual abilities among students in general and in particular among those from disadvantaged social backgrounds;

-          designing and implementing educational measures aimed at students with high intellectual abilities;

-          incorporating into teacher training the values of humanism, the reality of multiculturalism, the educational use of ICT and, lastly, the encouragement of creativity, innovation and initiative.’

Mount Bel Stone courtesy of Horvabe

Mount Bel Stone courtesy of Horvabe

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What the Opinion Eventually Recommended

The final version of the Opinion was discussed by the EESC at its meeting on 16 January 2013 and was adopted ‘by 131 votes in favour, none against, with 13 abstentions’.

The analysis contained in the Opinion is by no means uncontentious and a close analysis would generate a long list of reservations. But this would be oblique to the issue under discussion.

The recommendations are as follows (my emboldening):

‘The European Economic and Social Committee is aware that the issue of children and young people with high intellectual abilities has been fairly well researched, as a result of the studies conducted over the last decades and the extensive corpus of specialist scientific literature. However, given the importance of this topic, the EESC recommends that the European Commission and the Member States support further studies and research and adopt suitable measures to cater for diversity among all types of people. These should include programmes that would tap the potential of gifted children and young people in a wide variety of fields. The aims of this action would include facilitating employment and employability within the framework of the EU and, in a context of economic crisis, enhancing specialist knowledge and preventing brain drain to other parts of the world.

The Committee proposes nurturing the development and potential of children and young people with high abilities throughout the various stages and forms of their education, avoiding premature specialisation and encouraging schools to cater for diversity, and exploiting the possibilities of cooperative and non-formal learning.

The Committee recommends fostering education and lifelong learning, bearing in mind that each individual’s intellectual potential is not static but evolves differently throughout the various stages of his or her life.

The Committee recommends that, in the future, greater consideration be given to each Member State’s existing models for and experience in working with highly gifted children, particularly those which benefit all of society, facilitate cohesion, reduce school failure and encourage better education in accordance with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy.

The Committee highlights the need to detect, in the workplace, those workers (particularly young workers) who are able and willing to develop their intellectual capabilities and contribute to innovation, and to give them the opportunity to further their education in the field that best matches their ambitions and centres of interest.

The Committee proposes improving educational care for children and young people with high abilities, in terms of the following aspects:

  • initial and ongoing training of teaching staff regarding the typical characteristics of highly able students, as well as the detection and educational care they need;
  • pooling of procedures for the early detection of high intellectual abilities among students in general and in particular among those from disadvantaged social backgrounds;
  • designing and implementing educational measures aimed at students with high intellectual abilities. These measures should include actions inside and outside ordinary educational establishments;
  • incorporating into teacher training the values of humanism, the reality of multiculturalism, the educational use of ICT and, lastly, the encouragement of creativity, innovation and initiative.

Improving the care provided for highly able students should include their emotional education (which is particularly important during adolescence), the acquisition of social skills with a view to facilitating integration and inclusion in society, integration into the labour market, and fostering their teamwork skills.

Schemes and procedures for student exchanges and visits abroad should be tapped into so that gifted students can take part in them, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Opportunities for exchanging information and good practices on detecting and caring for gifted students should be harnessed across the EU Member States.

Entrepreneurship should be fostered among children and young people with high abilities, with a view to encouraging responsibility and solidarity towards society overall.

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More than One Opinion?

I have devoted significant attention to this apparently unrelated initiative because it shows that the EU lobbying effort in this field is poorly co-ordinated and pursuing substantively different objectives.

The EU Talent project failed to secure the NLA it was pursuing, but someone else has exploited the same route to influence – and for substantially different purposes.

What is worse, the EU Talent lobby seems to have failed entirely to secure any cross-reference to their efforts, despite there being two Hungarians on the study group. Did they try and fail or didn’t they try at all?

Perhaps fortunately, the Opinion seems to have been as influential as the Written Declaration. One wonders whether the enormous energy and time invested in each of these processes was ultimately worthwhile.

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What progress has been made by the European Talent Project?

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The Mission Has Changed

The website version of the Centre’s mission is subtly different from the original version discussed earlier in this post

The Centre now seeks:

  • ‘to provide talent support an emphasis commensurate with its importance in every European country [same]
  • to provide talented youngsters access to the most adequate forms of education in every Member State [same]
  • to make Europe attractive for the talented youth [same]
  • to create talent-friendly societies in every European country [same]
  • to accelerate the sharing of information on the topic [new]
  • to create a higher number of more efficient forms of talent support for the talented’ [new]
  • to make it easier for social actors interested in talent support to find each other through the European talent support network.’ [new]

The reference to voluntary experts has gone, to be replaced by a call for:

‘…partners – professionals, talents and talent supporters – willing to think and work together.’

Towards a European Talent Support Network’ offers a different version again.

The mission and role of the Centre have changed very slightly, to reflect the new orthodoxy of multiple European talent centres, describing the Budapest body as ‘the first European Talent Centre’.

Four long-term goals are outlined:

  • to give talent support a priority role in the transformation of the sector of education;
  • To reduce talent loss to the minimum in Europe,
  • To accelerate the sharing of information on the topic by integrating talent support initiatives of the Member States of the EU into a network
  • To make it easier for social actors interested in talent support to find each other through the European talent support network.’

It adds some additional short term objectives for good measure:

  • ‘As a hub of a European network, try to trigger mechanisms which bring organizations and individuals together to facilitate collaboration, share best practices and resources
  • Draw the Talent Support Map of Europe
  • Organize conferences for professionals in the region
  • Do research on the field of talent support
  • Collect and share best practices.’

We have now encountered three different versions of a mission statement for an entity that is less than two years old.

It is not clear whether this represents an evolutionary process within the organisation – which might be more understandable if it were better documented – or a certain slipperiness and opportunistic shifting of position that makes it very difficult for outsiders to get a grip on exactly what the Centre is for.

In typical fashion, the document says that:

‘the activities of the Centre fall into four large groups: advocacy, research, organisation (conferences, meetings, Talent Days), contact-keeping (meeting delegations from all over the world) and sharing information.’

Forgive me, but isn’t that five groups?

We have dealt with advocacy already and unfortunately there is negligible information available about the ‘contact-keeping’ activity undertaken – ie the various delegations that have been met by the staff and what the outcomes have been of those meetings.

That leaves research, organisation and sharing information.

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Esterhazy Castle

Esterhazy Castle

Advisory Board and Partners

Before leaving the Centre’s operations, it is important to note that a three-strong Advisory Board has bee been appointed.

All three are luminaries of ECHA, two of them serving on the current Executive Committee.

There is no explanation of the Board’s role, or how it was chosen, and no published record of its deliberations. It is not clear whether it is intended as a substitute for the advisory group that was originally envisaged, which was to have had much broader membership.

As noted above, there is also a new emphasis on ‘partners’. The full text of the reference on the website says:

‘We are looking for partners – professionals, talents and talent supporters – willing to think and work together. We sincerely hope that the success of the Hungarian example will not stop short at the frontiers of the country, but will soon make its way to European talent support co-operation.’

Four partners are currently listed – ECHA, the Global Centre for Gifted and Talented Children, IGGY and the World Council – but there is no explanation of the status conferred by partnership or the responsibilities expected of partners in return.

Are partners prospective European Talent Centres or do they have a different status? Must partners be talent points or not? We are not told.

Research

This is presumably a reference to the ‘Best Practices’ section of the Budapest Centre’s website, which currently hosts two collections of studies ‘International Horizons of Talent Support Volumes 1 and 2’ and a selection of individual studies (17 at the time of writing).

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The quality of this material can best be described as variable. This study of provision in Ireland is relatively unusual, since most of the material is currently devoted to Central and Eastern Europe, but it gives a sense of what to expect.

There has been no effort to date to collect together already-published research and data about provision in different parts of Europe and to make that material openly accessible to readers. That is a major disappointment.

There is nothing in the collection that resembles an independent evaluation of the European Talent Initiative as a whole, or even an evaluation of the Hungarian NTP.

At best one can describe the level and quality of research-related activity as embryonic.

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Event Organisation

This Table shows what the Centre has achieved to date and what is planned for 2014:

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2011 2012 2013 2014
Conference Yes (Budapest) Unofficial (Warsaw) No Yes (Budapest)
EU Talent Day Yes No No Yes

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The 2014 Conference is the first official EU-wide event since the 2011 launch conference. The same is true of the 2014 EU Talent Day.

The Polish conference was initially planned for spring 2012, but failed to materialise. By July it was confirmed that there would only be ‘an unofficial follow-up’ in October. My December 2012 post described my personal and ultimately unsuccessful efforts to attend this event and summarised the proceedings.

The 2014 Conference Website insists that it will coincide with the Third EU Talent Day but I can find barely a trace of a Second, except in Estonia, where it was celebrated on 21 March 2012.

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This is not a strikingly positive record.

The 2014 Conference website names an organising ‘international scientific committee’ that is heavily biased towards academics (eight of the eleven), ECHA luminaries (five of the eleven) and Hungarians (four of the eleven).

The programme features four academic keynotes about networks and networking.

The remainder involve Slovenia’s education minister, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (a Hungarian who was advertised to be part of the Parliamentary Hearing on the Written Declaration but, if he did attend, apparently made no contribution) and one devoted to the ‘International Talent Competiveness Index’.

I think this must be INSEAD’s Global Talent Competitiveness Index).

INSEAD’s inaugural 2013 Report ranks Hungary 40th of 103 countries on this Index. (The UK is ranked 7th and the US 9th).

There are eight ‘break-up sessions’ [sic]:

  • The role of governments and the EU in creation a European Network[sic]
  • Digital Networks for Talented Youth
     
  • Social responsibility and organisational climate
  • Practice and Ethics of Networking
  • Multiple disadvanteged children [sic]
  • Parents’ networks in Europe
  • Counselling Centers [sic]
  • Civil networks for Talent Support

The expected outcome of the event is not specified. There is no scheduled opportunity to discuss the progress made to date by the EU Talent initiative, or the policy and implementation issues flagged up in this post. And there is no information about the mediation of the Conference via social media (though there are now Skype links next to the items in the programme).

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Talent Map and Resources

The website features a Resource Center [sic] which includes a database of ‘selected resources’. We are not told on what basis the selection has been made.

The database is built into the website and is not particularly accessible, especially if one compares it with the Hungarian equivalent. Indeed, the Talent Centre website is decidedly clunky by comparison.

The Talent Map is now better populated than it was, though inconsistently so. There are only two entries for Hungary, for example, while Romania has 11. There are only three in the UK and none in Ireland. Neither CTYI nor SNAP is mentioned.

It might have been better to pre-populate the map and then to indicate which entries had been ‘authorised’ by their owners.

From a presentational perspective the map is better than the database, though it should have a full page to itself.

Both the database and the map are still works in progress.

Overall Assessment and Key Issues Arising

In the light of this evidence, what are we to make of the progress achieved towards a European Talent Network over the last four years?

In my judgement:

  • The fundamental case for modelling a European Talent Network on the Hungarian National Talent Programme is unproven. The basic design of the NTP may reflect one tradition of consensus on effective practice, but the decision to stop at age 35 is unexplained and idiosyncratic. The full model is extremely costly to implement and relies heavily on EU funding. Even at current levels of funding, it is unlikely to be impacting on more than a relatively small minority of the target population. It is hard to see how it can become financially sustainable in the longer term. 
  • There is no detailed and convincing rationale for, or description of, how the model is being modified (into ‘Hungary-lite’) for European rollout. It is abundantly clear that this rollout will never attract commensurate funding and, compared with the NTP, it is currently being run ‘on a shoestring’. But, as currently envisaged, the rollout will require significant additional funding and the projected sources of this funding are unspecified. The more expensive the rollout becomes, the more unlikely it is to be financially sustainable. In short, the scalability to Europe of the modified Hungarian talent support model is highly questionable.
  • The shape and purpose of the overall European Talent initiative has changed substantively on several occasions during its short lifetime. There is only limited consistency between the goals being pursued now and those originally envisaged. There have been frequent changes to these goals along the way, several of them unexplained. It is not clear whether this is attributable to political opportunism and/or real confusion and disagreement within the initiative over what exactly it is seeking to achieve and how. There are frequently inconsistencies between different sources over exactly how aspects of the rollout are to be implemented. This causes confusion and calls into question the competence of those who are steering the process. Such ‘mission creep’ will radically reduce the chances of success.
  • The relationship with ECHA has always been problematic – and remains so. Fundamentally the European Talent Initiative is aiming to achieve what ECHA itself should have achieved, but failed. The suggestion that ECHA be given control over the accreditation of European Talent Centres is misguided. ECHA is a closed membership organisation rather than an open network and cannot be assumed to be representative of all those engaged in talent support throughout Europe. There is no reason why this process could not be managed by the network itself. In the longer term the continued co-existence of the Network and ECHA as separate entities becomes increasingly problematic. But any merger would demand radical reform of ECHA. Despite the injection of new blood into the ECHA Executive, the forces of conservatism within it remain strong and are unlikely to countenance such a radical step.
  • The progress achieved by the European Talent Centre during its relatively short existence has been less than impressive. That is partly attributable to the limited funding available and the fact that it is being operated on the margins of the Hungarian NTP. The funding it does attract comes with the expectation that it will be used to advertise the successes of the NTP abroad, so raising the status and profile of the domestic effort. There is a tension between this and the Centre’s principal role, which must be to drive the European rollout. 
  • The decision to move to a distributed model in which several European Talent Centres develop the network, rather than a centralised model driven by Budapest, is absolutely correct. (I was saying as much back in 2011.) However, the wider implications of this decision do not appear to have been thought through. I detect a worrying tendency to create bureaucracy for the sake of it, rather than focusing on getting things done.
  • Meanwhile, the Budapest Centre has made some headway with a Talent Map and a database of resources, but not nearly enough given the staffing and resource devoted to the task. The failure to deliver annual EU Conferences and Talent Days is conspicuous and worrying. Conversely, the effort expended on lobbying within the European Commission has clearly been considerable, though the tangible benefits secured from this exercise are, as yet, negligible.
  • For an initiative driven by networking, the quantity and quality of communication is poor. Independent evaluation studies of the Hungarian model do not seem to be available, at least not in English. There should be a fully costed draft specification for the European roll-out which is consulted upon openly and widely. Consultation seems confined currently to ECHA members which is neither inclusive nor representative. No opportunities are provided to challenge the direction of travel pursued by the initiative and its decision-making processes are not transparent. There is no evidence that it is willing to engage with critics or criticism of its preferred approach. The programme for the 2014 Conference does not suggest any marked shift in this respect.

An unkind critic might find sufficient evidence to level an accusation of talent support imperialism, albeit masked by a smokescreen of scientifically justified networkology.

I do not subscribe to that view, at least not yet. But I do conclude that the European Talent effort is faltering badly. It may limp on for several years to come, but it will never achieve its undoubted potential until the issues outlined above are properly and thoroughly addressed.

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GP

March 2014

 

What Has Become of the European Talent Network? Part One

This post discusses recent progress by the European Talent Centre towards a European Talent Network.

EU flag CaptureIt is a curtain-raiser for an imminent conference on this topic and poses the critical questions I would like to see addressed at that event.

It should serve as a briefing document for prospective delegates and other interested parties, especially those who want to dig beneath the invariably positive publicity surrounding the initiative.

It continues the narrative strand of posts I have devoted to the Network, concentrating principally on developments since my last contribution in December 2012.

 

Flag_of_HungaryThe post is organised part thematically and part chronologically and covers the following ground:

  • An updated description of the Hungarian model for talent support and its increasingly complex infrastructure.
  • The origins of the European Talent project and how its scope and objectives have changed since its inception.
  • The project’s advocacy effort within the European Commission and its impact to date.
  • Progress on the European Talent Map and promised annual European Talent Days and conferences.
  • The current scope and effectiveness of the network, its support structures and funding.
  • Key issues and obstacles that need to be addressed.

To improve readability I have divided the text into two sections of broadly equivalent length. Part One is dedicated largely to bullets one to three above, while Part Two deals with bullets three to six.

Previous posts in this series

If I am to do justice to this complex narrative, I must necessarily draw to some extent on material I have already published in earlier posts. I apologise for the repetition, which I have tried to keep to a minimum.

On re-reading those earlier posts and comparing them with this, it is clear that my overall assessment of the EU talent project has shifted markedly since 2010, becoming progressively more troubled and pessimistic.

This seems to me justified by an objective assessment of progress, based exclusively on evidence in the public domain – evidence that I have tried to draw together in these posts.

However, I feel obliged to disclose the influence of personal frustration at this slow progress, as well as an increasing sense of personal exclusion from proceedings – which seems completely at odds with the networking principles on which the project is founded.

I have done my best to control this subjective influence in the assessment below, confining myself as far as possible to an objective interpretation of the facts.

However I refer you to my earlier posts if you wish to understand how I reached this point.

  • In April 2011 I attended the inaugural conference in Budapest, publishing a report on the proceedings and an analysis of the Declaration produced, plus an assessment of the Hungarian approach to talent support as it then was and its potential scalability to Europe as a whole.
  • In December 2012 I described the initial stages of EU lobbying, an ill-fated 2012 conference in Poland, the earliest activities of the European Talent Centre and the evolving relationship between the project and ECHA, the European Council for High Ability.

I will not otherwise comment on my personal involvement, other than to say that I do not expect to attend the upcoming Conference, judging that the cost of attending will not be exceeded by the benefits of doing so.

This post conveys more thoroughly and more accurately the points I would have wanted to make during the proceedings, were suitable opportunities provided to do so.

A brief demographic aside

It is important to provide some elementary information about Hungary’s demographics, to set in context the discussion below of its talent support model and the prospects for Europe-wide scalability.

Hungary is a medium-sized central European country with an area roughly one-third of the UK’s and broadly similar to South Korea or Portugal.

It has a population of around 9.88 million (2013) about a sixth of the size of the UK population and similar in size to Portugal’s or Sweden’s.

Hungary is the 16th most populous European country, accounting for about 1.4% of the total European population and about 2% of the total population of the European Union (EU).

It is divided into 7 regions and 19 counties, plus the capital, Budapest, which has a population of 1.7 million in its own right.

RegionsHungary

Almost 84% of the population are ethnic Hungarians but there is a Roma minority estimated (some say underestimated) at 3.1% of the population.

Approximately 4 million Hungarians are aged below 35 and approximately 3.5m are aged 5-34.

The GDP (purchasing power parity) is $19,497 (source: IMF), slightly over half the comparable UK figure.

The Hungarian Talent Support Model

The Hungarian model has grown bewilderingly complex and there is an array of material describing it, often in slightly different terms.

Some of the English language material is not well translated and there are gaps that can be filled only with recourse to documents in Hungarian (which I can only access through online translation tools).

Much of this documentation is devoted to publicising the model as an example of best practice, so it can be somewhat economical with the truth.

The basic framework is helpfully illustrated by this diagram, which appeared in a presentation dating from October 2012.

EU talent funding Capture

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It shows how the overall Hungarian National Talent Programme (NTP) comprises a series of time-limited projects paid for by the EU Social Fund, but also a parallel set of activities supported by a National Talent Fund which is fed mainly by the Hungarian taxpayer.

The following sections begin by outlining the NTP, as described in a Parliamentary Resolution dating from 2008.

Secondly, they describe the supporting infrastructure for the NTP as it exists today.

Thirdly, they outline the key features of the time-limited projects: The Hungarian Genius Programme (HGP) (2009-13) and the Talent Bridges Programme (TBP) (2012-14).

Finally, they try to make sense of the incomplete and sometimes conflicting information about the funding allocated to different elements of the NTP.

Throughout this treatment my principal purpose is to show how the European Talent project fits into the overall Hungarian plan, as precursor to a closer analysis of the former in the second half of the post.

I also want to show how the direction of the NTP has shifted since its inception.

 .

The National Talent Programme (NTP) (2008-2028)

The subsections below describe the NTP as envisaged in the original 2008 Parliamentary Resolution. This remains the most thorough exposition of the broader direction of travel that I could find.

Governing principles

The framework set out in the Resolution is built on ten general principles that I can best summarise as follows:

  • Talent support covers the period from early childhood to age 35, so extends well beyond compulsory education.
  • The NTP must preserve the traditions of existing successful talent support initiatives.
  • Talent is complex and so requires a diversity of provision – standardised support is a false economy.
  • There must be equality of access to talent support by geographical area, ethnic and socio-economic background.
  • Continuity is necessary to support individual talents as they change and develop over time; special attention is required at key transition points.
  • In early childhood one must provide opportunities for talent to emerge, but selection on the basis of commitment and motivation become increasingly significant and older participants increasingly self-select.
  • Differentiated support is needed to support different levels of talent; there must be opportunities to progress and to step off the programme without loss of esteem.
  • In return for talent support, the talented individual has a social responsibility to support talent development in others.
  • Those engaged in talent support – here called talent coaches – need time and support.
  • Wider social support for talent development is essential to success and sustainability.

Hence the Hungarians are focused on a system-wide effort to promote talent development that extends well beyond compulsory education, but only up to the age of 35. As noted above, if 0-4 year-olds are excluded, this represents an eligible population of about 3.5 million people.

The choice of this age 35 cut-off seems rather arbitrary. Having decided to push beyond compulsory education into adult provision, it is not clear why the principle of lifelong learning is then set aside – or exactly what happens when participants reach their 36th birthdays.

Otherwise the principles above seem laudable and broadly reflect one tradition of effective practice in the field.

Goals

The NTP’s goals are illustrated by this diagram

NTP goals Capture

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The elements in the lower half of the diagram can be expanded thus:

  • Talent support traditions: support for existing provision; development of new provision to fill gaps; minimum standards and professional development for providers; applying models of best practice; co-operation with ethnic Hungarian programmes outside Hungary (‘cross border programmes’); and ‘systematic exploration and processing of the talent support experiences’ of EU and other countries which excel in this field. 
  • Integrated programmes: compiling and updating a map of the talent support opportunities available in Hungary as well as ‘cross border programmes’; action to support access to the talent map; a ‘detailed survey of the international talent support practice’; networking between providers with cooperation and collaboration managed through a set of talent support councils; monitoring of engagement to secure continuity and minimise drop-out. 
  • Social responsibility: promoting the self-organisation of talented youth;  developing their innovation and management skills; securing counselling; piloting  a ‘Talent Bonus – Talent Coin’ scheme to record in virtual units the monetary value of support received and provided, leading to consideration of a LETS-type scheme; support for ‘exceptionally talented youth’; improved social integration of talented youth and development of a talent-friendly society. 
  • Equal opportunities: providing targeted information about talent support opportunities; targeted programming for disadvantaged, Roma and disabled people and wider emphasis on integration; supporting the development of Roma talent coaches; and action to secure ‘the desirable gender distribution’. 
  • Enhanced recognition: improving financial support for talent coaches; reducing workload and providing counselling for coaches; improving recognition and celebrating the success of coaches and others engaged in talent support. 
  • Talent-friendly society: awareness-raising activity for parents, family and friends of talented youth; periodic talent days to mobilise support and ‘promote the local utilisation of talent’; promoting talent in the media, as well as international communication about the programme and ‘introduction in both the EU and other countries by exploiting the opportunities provided by Hungary’s EU Presidency in 2011’; ‘preparation for the foreign adaptation of the successful talent support initiatives’ and organisation of EU talent days. 

Hence the goals incorporate a process of learning from European and other international experience, but also one of feeding back to the international community information about the Hungarian talent support effort and extending the model into other European countries.

There is an obvious tension in these goals between preserving the traditions of existing successful initiatives and imposing a framework with minimum standards and built-in quality criteria. This applies equally to the European project discussed below.

The reference to a LETS-type scheme is intriguing but I could trace nothing about its subsequent development.

 .

Planned Infrastructure

In 2008 the infrastructure proposed to undertake the NTP comprised:

  • A National Talent Co-ordination Board, chaired at Ministerial level, to oversee the programme and to allocate a National Talent Fund (see below).
  • A National Talent Support Circle [I’m not sure whether this should be ‘Council’] consisting of individuals from Hungary and abroad who would promote talent support through professional opportunities, financial contribution or ‘social capital opportunities’.
  • A National Talent Fund comprising a Government contribution and voluntary contributions from elsewhere. The former would include the proceeds of a 1% voluntary income tax levy (being one of the good causes towards which Hungarian taxpayers could direct this contribution). Additional financial support would come from ‘the talent support-related programmes of the New Hungary Development Plan’.
  • A system of Talent Support Councils to co-ordinate activity at regional and local level.
  • A national network of Talent Points – providers of talent support activity.
  • A biennial review of the programme presented to Parliament, the first being in 2011.

Presumably there have been two of these biennial reviews to date. They would make interesting reading, but I could find no material in English that describes the outcomes.

The NTP Infrastructure Today

The supporting infrastructure as described today has grown considerably more complex and bureaucratic than the basic model above.

  • The National Talent Co-ordination Board continues to oversee the programme as a whole. Its membership is set out here.
  • The National Talent Support Council was established in 2006 and devised the NTP as set out above. Its functions are more substantial than originally described (assuming this is the ‘Circle’ mentioned in the Resolution), although it now seems to be devolving some of these. Until recently at least, the Council: oversaw the national database of talent support initiatives and monitored coverage, matching demand – via an electronic mailing list – with the supply of opportunities; initiated and promoted regional talent days; supported the network of talent points and promoted the development of new ones; invited tenders for niche programmes of various kinds; collected and analysed evidence of best practice and the research literature; and promoted international links paying ‘special attention to the reinforcement of the EU contacts’. The Council has a Chair and six Vice Presidents as well as a Secretary and Secretariat. It operates nine committees: Higher Education, Support for Socially Disadvantaged Gifted People, Innovations, Public Education, Foreign Relations, Public and Media Relations, Theory of Giftedness, Training and Education and Giftedness Network.
  • The National Talent Point has only recently been identified as an entity in its own right, distinct from the National Council. Its role is to maintain the Talent Map and manage the underpinning database. Essentially it seems to have acquired the Council’s responsibilities for delivery, leaving the Council to concentrate on policy. It recently acquired a new website.
  • The Association of Hungarian Talent Support Organizations (MATEHETZ) is also a new addition. Described as ‘a non-profit umbrella organization that legally represents its members and the National Talent Support Council’, it is funded by the National Council and through membership fees. The Articles of Association date from February 2010 and list 10 founding organisations. The Association provides ‘representation’ for the National Council’ (which I take to mean the membership). It manages the time-limited programmes (see below) as well asthe National Talent Point and the European Talent Centre.
  • Talent Support Councils: Different numbers of these are reported. One source says 76; another 65, of which some 25% were newly-established through the programme. Their role seems broadly unchanged, involving local and regional co-ordination, support for professionals, assistance to develop new activities, helping match supply with demand and supporting the tracking of those with talent.
  • Talent Point Network: there were over 1,000 talent points by the end of 2013. (Assuming 3.5 million potential participants, that is a talent point for every 3,500 people.) Talent points are providers of talent support services – whether identification, provision or counselling. They are operated by education providers, the church and a range of other organisations and may have a local, regional or national reach. They join the network voluntarily but are accredited. In 2011 there were reportedly 400 talent points and 200 related initiatives, so there has been strong growth over the past two years.
  • Ambassadors of Talent: Another new addition, introduced by the National Talent Support Council in 2011. There is a separate Ambassador Electing Council which appoints three new ambassadors per year. The current list has thirteen entries and is markedly eclectic.
  • Friends of Talent Club: described in 2011 as ‘a voluntary organisation that holds together those, who are able and willing to support talents voluntarily and serve the issue of talent support…Among them, there are mentors, counsellors and educators, who voluntarily help talented people develop in their professional life. The members of the club can be patrons and/or supporters. “Patrons” are those, who voluntarily support talents with a considerable amount of service. “Supporters” are those, who voluntarily support the movement of talent support with a lesser amount of voluntary work, by mobilizing their contacts or in any other way.’ This sounds similar to the originally envisioned ‘National Talent Support Circle’ [sic]. I could find little more about the activities of this branch of the structure.
  • The European Talent Centre: The National Talent Point says that this:

‘…supports and coordinates European actions in the field of talent support in order to find gifted people and develop their talent in the interest of Europe as a whole and the member states.’

Altogether this is a substantial endeavour requiring large numbers of staff and volunteers and demanding a significant budgetary topslice.

I could find no reliable estimate of the ratio of the running cost to the direct investment in talent support, but there must be cause to question the overall efficiency of the system.

My hunch is that this level of bureaucracy must consume a significant proportion of the overall budget.

Clearly the Hungarian talent support network is a long, long way from being financially self-sustaining, if indeed it ever could be.

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Hungary Parliament Building Budapest

Hungarian Parliament Building

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The Hungarian Genius Programme (HGP) (2009-13)

Launched in June 2009, the HGP had two principal phases lasting from 2009 to 2011 and from 2011 to 2013. The fundamental purpose was to establish the framework and infrastructure set out in the National Talent Plan.

This English language brochure was published in 2011. It explains that the initial focus is on adults who support talents, establishing a professional network and training experts, as well as creating the network and map of providers.

It mentions that training courses lasting 10 to 30 hours have been developed and accredited in over 80 subjects to:

‘…bring concepts and methods of gifted and talented education into the mainstream and reinforce the professional talent support work… These involve the exchange of experience and knowledge expansion training, as well as programs for those who deal with talented people in developing communities, and awareness-raising courses aimed at the families and environment of young pupils, on the educational, emotional and social needs of children showing special interest and aptitude in one or more subject(s). The aims of the courses are not only the exchange of information but to produce and develop the professional methodology required for teaching talents.’

The brochure also describes an extensive talent survey undertaken in 2010, the publication of several good practice studies and the development of a Talent Loan modeled on the Hungarian student loan scheme.

It lists a seven-strong strategic management group including an expert adviser, project manager, programme co-ordinator and a finance manager. There are also five operational teams, each led by a named manager, one of which focused on ‘international relations: collecting and disseminating international best practices; international networking’.

A subsequent list of programme outputs says:

  • 24,000 new talents were identified
  • The Talent Map was drawn and the Talent Network created (including 867 talent points and 76 talent councils).
  • 23,500 young people took part in ‘subsidised talent support programmes’
  • 118 new ‘local educational talent programmes’ were established
  • 25 professional development publications were written and made freely available
  • 13,987 teachers (about 10% of the total in Hungary) took part in professional development.

Evidence in English of rigorous independent evaluation is, however, limited:

‘The efficiency of the Programme has been confirmed by public opinion polls (increased social acceptance of talent support) and impact assessments (training events: expansion of specialised knowledge and of the methodological tool kit).’

 .

The Talent Bridges Project (TBP) (2012-2014)

TBP began in November 2012 and is scheduled to last until ‘mid-2014’.

The initially parallel TBP is mentioned in the 2011 brochure referenced above:

‘In the strategic plan of the Talent Bridges Program to begin in 2012, we have identified three key areas for action: bridging the gaps in the Talent Point network, encouraging talents in taking part in social responsibility issues and increasing media reach. In order to become sustainable, much attention should be payed [sic] to maintaining and expanding the support structure of this system, but the focus will significantly shift towards direct talent care work with the youth.’

Later on it says:

‘Within the framework of the Talent Bridges Program the main objectives are: to further improve the contact system between the different levels of talent support organisations; to develop talent peer communities based on the initiatives coming from young people themselves; to engage talents in taking an active role in social responsibility; to increase media reach in order to enhance the recognition and social support for both high achievers and talent support; and last, but not least, to arrange the preliminary steps of setting up an EU Institute of Talent Support in Budapest.’

A list of objectives published subsequently contains the following items:

  • Creating a national talent registration and tracking system
  • Developing programmes for 3,000 talented young people from  disadvantaged backgrounds and with special educational needs
  • Supporting the development of ‘outstanding talents’ in 500 young people
  • Supporting 500 enrichment programmes
  • Supporting ‘the peer age groups of talented young people’
  • Introducing programmes to strengthen interaction between parents, teachers and  talented youth benefiting  5,000 young people
  • Introducing ‘a Talent Marketplace’ to support ‘the direct social utilisation of talent’ involving ‘150 controlled co-operations’
  • Engaging 2,000 mentors in supporting talented young people and training 5,000 talent support facilitators and mentors
  • Launching a communication campaign to reach 100,000 young people and
  • Realise European-Union-wide communication (in addition to the current 10, to involve 10 more EU Member States into the Hungarian initiatives, in co-operation with the European Talent Centre in Budapest established in the summer of 2012).

Various sources describe how the TBP is carved up into a series of sub-projects. The 2013 Brochure ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ lists 14 of these, but none mention the European work.

However, what appears to be the bid for TBP (in Hungarian) calls the final sub-project ‘an EU Communications Programme’ (p29), which appears to involve:

  • Raising international awareness of Hungary’s talent support activities
  • Strengthening Hungary’s position in the EU talent network
  • Providing a foreign exchange experience for talented young Hungarians
  • Influencing policy makers.

Later on (p52) this document refers to an international campaign, undertaken with support from the European Talent Centre, targeting international organisations and the majority of EU states.

Work to be covered includes the preparation of promotional publications in foreign languages, the operation of a ‘multilingual online platform’, participation in international conferences (such as those of ECHA, the World Council, IRATDE and ICIE); and ‘establishing new professional collaborations with at least 10 new EU countries or international organisations’.

Funding

It is not a straightforward matter to reconcile the diverse and sometimes conflicting sources of information about the budgets allocated to the National Talent Fund, HGP and the TBP, but this is my best effort, with all figures converted into pounds sterling.

 .

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Total
NTF x £2.34m.or £4.1m  £2.34m.or £4.1m £8.27m tbc tbc tbc
Of which ETC x x x £80,000 £37,500 £21,350 £138,850
HGP £8.0m £4.6m x £12.6m
TBP x x x £5.3m £5.3m
Of which EU comms x x x £182,000 £182,000

Several sources say that the Talent Fund is set to increase in size over the period.

‘This fund has an annual 5 million EUR support from the national budget and an additional amount from tax donations of the citizens of a total sum of 1.5 million EUR in the first year doubled to 3 million EUR and 6 million EUR in the second and third years respectively.’ (Csermely 2012)

That would translate into a budget of £5.4m/£6.7m/£9.2m over the three years in question, but it is not quite clear which three years are included.

Even if we assume that the NTF budget remains the same in 2013 and 2014 as in 2012, the total investment over the period 2009-2014 amounts to approximately £60m.

That works out at about £17 per eligible Hungarian. Unfortunately I could find no reliable estimate of the total number of Hungarians that have benefited directly from the initiative to date.

On the basis of the figures I have seen, my guesstimate is that the total will be below 10% of the total eligible population – so under 350,000. But I must stress that there is no evidence to support this.

Whether or not the intention is to reach 100% of the population, or whether there is an in-built assumption that only a proportion of the population are amenable to talent development, is a moot point. I found occasional references to a 25% assumption, but it was never clear whether this was official policy.

Even if this applies, there is clearly a significant scalability challenge even within Hungary’s national programme.

It is also evident that the Hungarians have received some £18m from the European Social Fund over the past five years and have invested at least twice as much of their own money. That is a very significant budget indeed for a country of this size.

Hungary’s heavy reliance on EU funding is such that they will find it very difficult to sustain the current effort if that largesse disappears.

One imagines that they will be seeking continued support from EU sources over the period 2014-2020. But, equally, one would expect the EU to demand robust evidence that continued heavy dependency on EU funding will not be required.

And of course a budget of this size also begs questions about scalability to Europe in the conspicuous absence of a commensurate figure. There is zero prospect of equivalent funding being available to extend the model across Europe. The total bill would run into billions of pounds!

A ‘Hungarian-lite’ model would not be as expensive, but it would require a considerable budget.

However, it is clear from the table that the present level of expenditure on the European network has been tiny by comparison with the domestic investment – probably not much more than £100,000 per year.

Initially this came from the National Talent Fund budget but it seems as though the bulk is now provided through the ESF, until mid-2014 at least.

This shift seems to have removed a necessity for the European Talent Centre to receive its funding in biannual tranches through a perpetual retendering process.

For the sums expended from the NTF budget are apparently tied to periods of six months or less.

The European Talent Centre website currently bears the legend:

‘Operation of the European Talent Centre – Budapest between 15th December 2012 and 30th June 2013 is realised with the support of Grant Scheme No. NTP-EUT-M-12 announced by the Institute for Educational Research and Development and the Human Resources Support Manager on commission of the Ministry of Human Resources “To support international experience exchange serving the objectives of the National Talent Programme, and to promote the operation and strategic further development of the European Talent Centre – Budapest”.’

But when I wrote my 2012 review it said:

‘The operation of the European Talent Centre — Budapest is supported from 1 July 2012 through 30 November 2012 by the grant of the National Talent Fund. The grant is realised under Grant Scheme No. NTP-EU-M-12 announced by the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research and Development and the SándorWekerle Fund Manager of the Ministry of Administration and Justice on commission of the Ministry of Human Resources, from the Training Fund Segment of the Labour Market Fund.’

A press release confirmed the funding for this period as HUF 30m.

Presumably it will now need to be amended to reflect the arrival of £21.3K under Grant Scheme No. NTP-EU-M-13 – and possibly to reflect income from the ESF-supported TBP too.

A comparison between the Hungarian http://tehetseg.hu/ website and the European Talent Centre website is illustrative of the huge funding imbalance in favour of the former.

Danube Bend at Visegrad courtesy of Phillipp Weigell

Danube Bend at Visegrad courtesy of Phillipp Weigell

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Origins of the European Talent Project: Evolution to December 2012

Initial plans

Hungary identified talent support as a focus during its EU Presidency, in the first half of 2011, citing four objectives:

  • A talent support conference scheduled for April 2011
  • A first European Talent Day to coincide with the conference, initially ‘a Hungarian state initiative…expanding it into a public initiative by 2014’.
  • Talent support to feature in EU strategies and documents, as well as a Non-Legislative Act (NLA). It is not specified whether this should be a regulation, decision, recommendation or opinion. (Under EU legislation the two latter categories have no binding force.)
  • An OMCexpert group on talent support – ie an international group run under the aegis of the Commission.

The Budapest Declaration

The Conference duly took place, producing a Budapest Declaration on Talent Support in which conference participants:

  • ‘Call the European Commission and the European Parliament to make every effort to officially declare the 25th of March the European Day of the Talented and Gifted.’
  • ‘Stress the importance of…benefits and best practices appearing in documents of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament.’
  • ‘Propose to establish a European Talent Resource and Support Centre in Budapest’ to ‘coordinate joint European actions in the field’.
  • ‘Agree to invite stakeholders from every country of the European Union to convene annually to discuss the developments and current questions in talent support. Upon the invitation of the Government of Poland the next conference will take place in Warsaw.’

The possibility of siting a European Centre anywhere other than Budapest was not seriously debated.

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Evolution of a Written Declaration to the EU

Following the Conference an outline Draft Resolution of the European Parliament was circulated for comment.

This proposed that:

 ‘A Europe-wide talent support network should be formed and supported with an on-line and physical presence to support information-sharing, partnership and collaborations. This network should be open for co-operation with all European talent support efforts, use the expertise and networking experiences of existing multinational bodies such as the European Council of High Ability and support both national and multinational efforts to help talents not duplicating existing efforts but providing an added European value.’

Moreover, ‘A European Talent Support Centre should be established…in Budapest’. This:

‘…should have an Advisory Board having the representatives of interested EU member states, all-European talent support-related institutions as well as key figures of European talent support.’

The Centre’s functions are five-fold:

‘Using the minimum bureaucracy and maximising its use of online solutions the European Talent Support Centre should:

  • facilitate the development and dissemination of best curricular and extra-curricular talent support practices;
  • coordinate the trans-national cooperation of Talent Points forming an EU Talent Point network;
  • help  the spread of the know-how of successful organization of Talent Days;
  • organize annual EU talent support conferences in different EU member states overseeing the progress of cooperation in European talent support;
  • provide a continuously updated easy Internet access for all the above information.’

Note the references on the one hand to an inclusive approach, a substantial advisory group (though without the status of an EU-hosted OMC expert group) and a facilitating/co-ordinating role, but also – on the other hand – the direct organisation of annual EU-wide conferences and provision of a sophisticated supporting online environment.

MEPs were lined up to submit the Resolution in Autumn 2011 but, for whatever reason, this did not happen.

Instead a new draft Written Declaration was circulated in January 2012. This called on:

  •  Member States to consider measures helping curricular and extracurricular forms of talent support including the training of educational professionals to recognize and help talent;
  • The Commission to consider talent support as a priority of future European strategies, such as the European Research Area and the European Social Fund;
  • Member States and the Commission to support the development of a Europe-wide talent support network, formed by talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres facilitating cooperation, development and dissemination of best talent support practices;
  • Member States and the Commission to celebrate the European Day of the Talented and Gifted.’

The focus has shifted from the Budapest-centric network to EU-led activity amongst member states collectively. Indeed, no specific role for Hungary is mentioned.

There is a new emphasis on professional development and – critically – a reference to ‘European talent centres’. All mention of NLAs and OMC expert groups has disappeared.

There followed an unexplained 11-month delay before a Final Written Declaration was submitted by four MEPs in November 2012.

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The 2012 Written Declaration 

There are some subtle adjustments in the final version of WD 0034/2012. The second bullet point has become:

  • ‘The Commission to consider talent support as part of ‘non-formal learning’ and a priority in future European strategies, such as the strategies guiding the European Research Area and the European Social Fund’.

While the third now says:

  • ‘Member States and the Commission to support the development of a Europe-wide talent support network bringing together talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres in order to facilitate cooperation and the development and dissemination of the best talent support practices.’

And the fourth is revised to:

  • ‘Member States and the Commission to celebrate the European Day of Highly Able People.’

The introduction of a phrase that distinguishes between education and talent support is curious.

CEDEFOP – which operates a European Inventory on Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning – defines the latter as:

‘…learning resulting from daily work-related, family or leisure activities. It is not organised or structured (in terms of objectives, time or learning support). Informal learning is in most cases unintentional from the learner’s perspective. It typically does not lead to certification.’

One assumes that a distinction is being attempted between learning organised by a school or other formal education setting and that which takes place elsewhere – presumably because EU member states are so fiercely protective of their independence when it comes to compulsory education.

But surely talent support encompasses formal and informal learning alike?

Moreover, the adoption of this terminology appears to rule out any provision that is ‘organised or structured’, excluding huge swathes of activity (including much of that featured in the Hungarian programme). Surely this cannot have been intentional.

Such a distinction is increasingly anachronistic, especially in the case of gifted learners, who might be expected to access their learning from a far richer blend of sources than simply in-school classroom teaching.

Their schools are no longer the sole providers of gifted education, but facilitators and co-ordinators of diverse learning streams.

The ‘gifted and talented’ terminology has also disappeared, presumably on the grounds that it would risk frightening the EU horses.

Both of these adjustments seem to have been a temporary aberration. One wonders who exactly they were designed to accommodate and whether they were really necessary.

 .

Establishment and early activity of the EU Talent Centre in Budapest

The Budapest centre was initially scheduled to launch in February 2012, but funding issues delayed this, first until May and then the end of June.

The press release marking the launch described the long-term goal of the Centre as:

‘…to contribute on the basis of the success of the Hungarian co-operation model to organising the European talent support actors into an open and flexible network overarching the countries of Europe.’

Its mission is to:

‘…offer the organisations and individuals active in an isolated, latent form or in a minor network a framework structure and an opportunity to work together to achieve the following:

  • to provide talent support an emphasis commensurate with its importance in every European country
  • to reduce talent loss to the minimum in Europe,
  • to give talent support a priority role in the transformation of the sector of education; to provide talented young persons access to the most adequate forms of education in every Member State,
  • to make Europe attractive for the talented youth,
  • to create talent-friendly societies in every European country.’

The text continues:

‘It is particularly important that network hubs setting targets similar to those of the European Talent Centre in Budapest should proliferate in the longer term.

The first six months represent the first phase of the work: we shall lay the bases [sic] for establishing the European Talent Support Network. The expected key result is to set up a team of voluntary experts from all over Europe who will contribute to that work and help draw the European talent map.

But what exactly are these so-called network hubs? We had to wait some time for an explanation.

There was relatively little material on the website at this stage and this was also slow to change.

My December 2012 post summarised progress thus:

‘The Talent Map includes only a handful of links, none in the UK.

The page of useful links is extensive but basically just a very long list, hard to navigate and not very user-friendly. Conversely, ‘best practices’ contains only three resources, all of them produced in house.

The whole design is rather complex and cluttered, several of the pages are too text-heavy and occasionally the English leaves something to be desired.’

 

Here ends the first part of this post. Part Twoexplains the subsequent development of the ‘network hubs’ concept, charts the continuation of the advocacy effort  and reviews progress in delivering the services for which the Budapest Centre is  responsible.

It concludes with an overall assessment of the initiative highlighting some of its key weaknesses.

GP

March 2014