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The COST-Lisbon International Conference Education: What’s next? Formal education & training and the transition from school to work in rural areas is the result of an in-progress multidisciplinary scientific network on rural NEETs among researchers from 27 European countries.

This network is working, since October 2019, as a four-year COST Action (CA18213 – Rural NEET Youths Network). Funded by the EU Horizon 2020 Framework Program, this Action encompasses the creation of a European-led multidisciplinary network from countries showing higher NEET youth rates in rural areas and aims at developing a model of comprehension for rural NEETs’ social exclusion risk and protective factors. The theme of this conference is aligned with the first annual thematic priority approved by the Action MC for the second grant period, which is Rural NEETs and Formal Education.

In a short definition, NEETs are young people aged between 15 and 34 years old who are excluded from employment, education, or training. This category is heterogeneous including young people that fit into the International Labour Organization definition of unemployed youth, but also others not seeking actively work.

Across Europe, rural NEETs represent the biggest share of NEETs; however, they remain mostly as an implicit subgroup of NEETs in the literature. Recent figures show that across the overall European Union (EU) member-states, the proportion of NEETs is higher in rural regions (18.9%), (meaning those areas where more than 50% of the population lives in the countryside) than in urban areas (15.6%). This trend is evident in 17 out of the 28 EU countries. This difference is greater in Southern and Eastern European countries.

Education plays an important role in this context. Related to formal education & training, three main issues strongly influence potential social exclusion processes:

  1. Early school leavers. Examination of data in terms of educational achievement shows that the proportion of early school leavers in rural European regions is, on average, above the 10% benchmark set by the European Commission.
  2. Educational offers. In most rural areas, the educational offer of formal learning, as well as other means of learning, are considerably reduced, compared to those existing in urban areas. In addition, to tackle job shortage, young people in rural areas tend to focus on vocational education largely than urban youth, on a rather restricted local offer basis, narrowing their opportunities to find a job and to continue education/professional training.
  3. The transition from school to the labour market. This transition is a complex long-term process through which most vulnerable youths, including rural NEETs, are exposed to an increased risk of precariousness or marginalization.

Vulnerable rural youths may face job offers limited to low-skilled work, fewer opportunities to develop broad work experience, or reduced mobility and commutation. Rural youths, in general, are strongly affected by the insufficient interconnection of educational offers and labour market needs. This dissonance is troublesome in rural areas, due to greater difficulty of finding employment outside agriculture.

In this context, educational and employment services fail to identify and match the needs of rural youths, such as rural NEETs, and to involve them in the available proposals or programs, some of them under initiatives like the Youth Guarantee.

During the COST-Lisbon Conference, Ingrid Schoon (University College of London, UK), Michael Corbett (Acadia University, Canada) and other invited keynote speakers, together with interested scholars and emerging researchers will contribute to the scientific debate of these issues. As the knowledge about rural youth in general – and their education & training, in particular – does not seem to be consolidated among European researchers, the conference has the purpose to clarify emerging trends and identifying new issues for the research agenda, as well as for public policy recommendations.

Two plenary sessions, one round table discussion, several parallel paper sessions and one poster session will be organized in Lisbon at ISCTE-IUL.

Download the program here.