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Western Europe


The coinages of early modern Europe, which were basically a continuation of those created in the medieval era, were composed of the two precious metalsgold and silverand the base metal copper. Most European countries and regions continued to employ a monometallic system based on silver, but supplemented by gold and copper. Silver provided the essential link between physical coins and the monetary systems in most principalities, in that the silver penny (with a few exceptions) always equalled the value of one penny in that principality's money of account: i.e., the denarius, denaro, denier, Pfenning. From Carolingian times (c. 795), the most widely used system in western Europe (except in Spain and parts of Germany) was based on the pound (libra, lira, livre, Pfund) originally equal in value to the Carolingian pound weight of silver (489.51 g). For accounting purposes, it was subdivided into twenty shillings (solidi, soldi, sous, Schillingen), which in turn were subdivided into twelve pennies or pence, so that each money-of-account pound always consisted of 240 currently circulating pennies. For centuries, the only silver coins struck were the various regional pennies (and their subdivisions); and not until the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries did some Italian city-states, and then France, introduce heavier weight silver coins, known as grossi or gros. The Florentine grosso or fiorino was in fact first struck (in 1237) with a value of 12d (denari), as was the French gros tournois (12 deniers ), from 1266; but England did not issue such a "shilling coin," known as the teston, until 1504.

By that time, the English pound sterling (20s) contained, or was worth, only 186.621 grams sterling silver (92.5 percent fine) or 172.624 grams fine silverjust over half of the original Tower Pound mint weight of sterling silver, 349.914 grams, dating from shortly after the Norman Conquest; it was 1.430 times heavier than the French mint weight, the marc de troyes (244.753 gwhich was one-half of the old Carolingian pound). The French livre tournois by 1504 contained a mere 4.36 percent of the original Carolingian weight, now the Paris livre, of silver argent-le-roy (95.833 percent fine). Over the ensuing centuries, the explanation for this breakoften an extreme divergencefrom that Carolingian monetary link was coinage debasement.

This development highlights the monetary importance of the base metal copper. Even the very finest coins were always alloyed with some copper, since a hardening agent was required for these soft and malleable precious metals. As indicated, English sterling silver had 7.5 percent copper, and the French argent-le-roy coins, 4.17 percent. For too many impecunious princes and city-state governments, the profits to be gained through substituting proportionately more and more of this base metal alloyhence the term debasement for less and less silver were too tempting to resist. A complementary technique for reducing a coin's precious metal contents was simply to decrease the weight of the coin itself; together, these techniques allowed the prince to mint more and more coins of the same nominal or "face" value from a pound or marc of fine silver or gold. A more precise definition of debasement is the reduction of the quantity of precious metalsilver or goldrepresented in the principality's money-of-account system, that is, the pound, livre, or lira.

The profits derived from coinage debasement came from a seigniorage tax on the mint's coinage output, a tax borne by those who sold bullion to the mint, but ultimately by the public at large. The government's objective in undertaking aggressive debasements was to increase its mint outputs, and thus its seigniorage revenues, by forcing its subjects to remint their former good coins into a greater number of inferior ones having the same nominal or "face" value and also by luring bullion away from foreign mints by offering a higher mint price for gold or silver. Merchants who received the debased coins from the mint would profit by spending them quickly (at home or abroad) before the almost inevitable inflation ensued. Neighboring governments were in turn compelled to engage in defensive debasements to maintain their own coinage outputs and mint profits.

The success of so many debasements can be explained by the crudity of medieval and early modern mint techniques. In the production of so-called hammered coinage, employing an upper and lower die (hammer and anvil) to stamp the coins as well as shears to cut them, no two coins from the same batch were exactly identical; even money changers, equipped with accurate scales and touchstones, generally had great difficulty in detecting small changes in coinage alloy (fineness) and weight. Obviously, the general public was far more readily deceived by such debasements and thus had to accept the seigniorage tax.

England's kings had long been a significant European exception in undertaking debasements only rarely, chiefly for defensive reasons, and almost always only by reducing their coins' weight, while maintaining the traditional sterling fineness. For example, in 1526, Henry VIII altered the silver coinage for the first time in sixty-two years (since 1464) to match the current circulating standard, which had deteriorated through wear and tear, by reducing the penny's weight, and thus its silver content, by 11.13 percent (from 0.719 g to 0.639 g). From 1542 to 1551, however, he and his successor undertook the famous "Great Debasement," which employed both mint-manipulating techniques. The long-traditional sterling silver standard (11 oz, 2 dwt silver) was debased to a mere three ounces of silver so that, with so much copper (9 oz), the coins "did blush with shame"; overall, the penny's silver content was reduced by 83.10 percent (to just 0.108 g silver). (Net profits from the "Great Debasement" of 15441551, from all mints, amounted to £1,270,864.10 sterling, an immense sum for that era.) In 1553, the government restored most of the fineness (to 11 oz) and some of the weightand thus the penny's pure silver content to 0.475 g. That task was completed with Elizabeth I's general recoinage of 1560, which restored the sterling silver standard, increasing the pure silver content to 0.480 g. Subsequently (apart from a very minor debasement in 1578, reversed in 1583), the English silver coinage remained unimpaired for over forty years, until July 1601, when it underwent another minor weight reduction, reducing the silver contents by a mere 3.33 percent (to 0.464 g). Thereafter, the English sterling silver coinage remained completely unaltered for over two centuries, undergoing its final weight reduction in 1817 (by 6.03 percent, with 0.436 g pure silver in the penny).

If the Henrician "Great Debasement" was therefore a striking anomaly in English monetary history, it was also not readily imitated elsewhere in early modern western Europe. It stood in sharp contrast to the monetary chaos that had afflicted the French, Flemish, Spanish, and most Italian silver coinages during the later Middle Ages. For example, fifteenth-century French coinage had become so impoverished in its silver content that the denier tournois was no longer a useful coin; and the standard or link coin became the blanc couronne or douzain ( 12d tournois; in effect, the shilling). Strengthened in 1488 to contain 1.023 grams of pure silver, it remained unaltered until 1519, when Francis I's minor debasement (reducing slightly both fineness and weight) diminished its fine silver content by 11.72 percent (to 0.903 g). When this coin underwent its final alteration in 1572, it lost another 22.18 percent of its fine silver (with only 0.703 g)if not a minimal loss, certainly not a drastic one compared to so many medieval debasements.

Thereafter, and throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, French monetary history is characterized by the issue of chiefly heavyweight, much finer, silver coins (see "Money and Coinage: Central and Eastern Europe"), and they generally had a fineness of full argent-le-roy. Their periodic "debasements" were not effected by physical changes but were implemented by yet a third technique: an increase in their face or money-of-account value. For example, in 1641, French mints issued the écu blanc with 26.062 grams fine silver and nominal value of 3 livres tournois; by 1693 this coin, physically unchanged, had increased in value to 3 livres 12 sous tournois. By 1791, when the final French silver coin of the medieval tournois genre was issued, as the post-Revolutionary écu constitutionelle, nominally worth 6 livres (with 28.260 g pure silver), the livre tournois then contained justand exactlyone percent of the fine silver in the Carolingian libra of about a thousand years earlier.

In early modern Italy, the various city-states and principalities (including the papacy) continued to strike their own individual coinages; but sufficient documentation is available only for Florence (to 1597). Having undergone considerable debasement for much of the medieval era, its silver coinage enjoyed relative, if not complete, stability for the one hundred years from 1371 to 1471, during which time the penny or denaro picciolo lost only 13.15 percent of its fine silver contents. But in 1472, it suffered a further and most dramatic loss of 71.13 of its fine silver (with just 2.08 percent fineness); and, when last issued in 1504 (with the same silver contents), its value was raised to 2d. The effective "link" money had become the quattrino (4d), which, in the same year, 1472, lost 30.85 percent of its fine silver contents; by 1560, it had lost a further 44.02 percent of its silver (with a reduction in fineness from the original 16.67 percent in 1332 to 8.33 percent in 1560).

More complex were debasements of the Florentine grosso (originally, the shilling coin). While nearly always retaining its argent-le-roy fineness (95.833 percent pure silver), its weight was periodically reduced, and its money-of-account value was increased, from 2s 0d in 1296 to 5s 6d in 1390, and finally to 7s 6d, with its final issue in 1531. During that period, its weight had been reduced by 34.03 percent, so that the pure silver content of the lira money of account, as reckoned in these grossi, had fallen by 56.02 percent. In the sixteenth century, Florentine silver coinage issues were also chiefly in the form of much heavier, higher-denomination coins, again all with argent-le-roy fineness: the Barile or Giulio, valued at 12s 6d (from 1504); the Cosimo, at one lira (that is, 20s, from 1539); the Testone, at two lire (40s, from 1540); and finally, the Piastra, at seven lire (140s, from 1568). During this century (1504 to 1597), the silver content of the lira, as reckoned in these coins, fell by only 17.24 percent (15.04 percent by 1552): from 5.386 grams to 4.4575 grams.

Even greater monetary stability was to be found in the silver coinages of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Habsburg Spain. From 1497 to 1686, the Spanish crown consistently minted (with one exceptional minor deviation in 16421643) two silver coins at 93.06 percent fineness: the Real, with 3.195 grams pure silver (67 cut from an alloyed marc of 230.0465 g) and a nominal money-of-account value of 34 maravedís (375 to the ducat money of account); and the heavyweight Real known as the "piece of eight" (real de a ocho), with just over eight times as much fine silver: 25.997 grams and a value of 272 maravedís. In 1686 it was subjected to a very minor weight reduction that lowered its fine silver content to 25.919 grams. The American dollar can trace its descent from this Spanish coin.

The more interesting Spanish monetary phenomenon was the issue of petty billon or vellon coinage, beginning with the blanca of 1583, with a fineness of just 1.39 percent (containing only 0.0146 g silver), and a nominal value 0.5 maravedí. That was followed in 1597 by the maravedí coin itself, with a fineness of only 0.35 percent (and a silver content of just 0.0063 g); in 1599 that became Spain's first purely copper coin (minted at 140 per copper marc, and from 1602 at 280 per marc ). Certainly, some of the ensuing inflation in seventeenth-century Spain, with a widening gap between nominal and silver-based prices, ranging from 4.0 percent in 1620 to 104.2 percent in 1650, has to be explained by such issues of copper coinage. Large volumes of copper coinages were made possible first by the central European silver and copper mining boom (c. 14601535), but subsequently and more especially, by the enormous expansion in Swedish copper production, peaking in the 1660s. The first European principality to issue a copper coinage had been, however, the Habsburg Netherlands, in 1543 (France, only in 1607, and England, not until 1672).

The Spanish-dominated government in the Habsburg Netherlands (from 1506) managed to retain, until the Revolt of the Netherlands broke out in 1568, a remarkable monetary stability. (The previous Burgundian regime had managed to achieve some stability only toward its end, in the years 14961500, after almost a century of frequently severe debasements.) The one significant set of Habsburg monetary changes took place in 1521, under Emperor Charles V. The silver stuiver or double groot (2d) was debased very slightly, in fineness only, so that it lost a mere 3.26 percent of its silver content (from 0.977 g to 0.945 g); and the pound groot Flemish, in terms of 120 stuivers (240d), now contained 113.453 grams fine silver. The major objective of the monetary change was to issue a new, heavier-weight silver coin, the double Carolus or Réal, 93.40 percent fine, and thus similar to the Spanish Real, though containing just 2.858 grams fine silver, and worth 6d groot (3 stuivers ). These silver coinages remained unchanged until 1553, when the stuiver underwent a debasement of 4.80 percent, so that the pound groot Flemish now contained 108.00 grams fine silver. By 1567, on the eve of the Revolt of the Netherlands, the stuiver had lost another 10 percent of its fine silver; and during the revolt era (to 1648), the stuiver of the now Spanish Netherlands lost a further 37.04 percent of its fine silver, so that the pound groot Flemish now contained only 61.20 grams fine silverless than half of the silver prescribed in Charles V's 1521 monetary ordinance.

The major consequence of the revolt was the secession of the seven northern provinces, which, by the Union of Utrecht, in 1579, became the Republic of the United Provinces, better known as the Dutch Republic. It gained its de facto independence from Spain in the Twelve Years' Truce in 1609. Its monetary and coinage system retained, however, some important links with the pre-revolt Habsburg system. Its basic silver coin was the same stuiver, which, however, formed the shilling in the Dutch money-of-account system. The reason for this seeming anomaly is simple. From the 1460s, when the market value of the Rhenish gold florin (Rhineland Electors) had risen to 40d groot Flemish, many merchants in the then Burgundian Low Countries adopted this "florin" as an additional silver-based money of account whose value was fixed at 40d groot one equal in value to the old livre d'Artois or livre de quarante gros. Thus, this florin money of account contained 20 stuivers, or "shillings." The other common names for the old Rhenish florin were gulden and guilder, the term for the Dutch money of account (with the symbol f ), which disappeared only with the arrival of the Euro in January 2002.

During the seventeenth century, the Dutch stuiver (as issued from 1619 to 1681) enjoyed a remarkable stability in fineness (33.333 percent fine) and weight (1.310 g) and thus in its fine silver contents, 0.436 g. The florin money of account, in terms of 20 stuivers, thus contained 8.725 grams fine silver (and the equivalent of the Flemish pound groot, as 120 stuivers, contained 52.348 g fine silver). In 1681, its silver contents were increased to 0.472 grams: by an improved fineness, to 58.30 percent, though with a reduction in weight, to 0.810 grams; and it retained that composition and unchanged value (9.445 g fine silver in the florin money of account) until it was last minted in 1791, on the eve of the French Revolutionary invasion of the Dutch Republic.

Throughout this long period, the Dutch Republic also issued various series of heavyweight silver coins, chiefly used in Dutch overseas commerce. The earliest, struck from 1606, were the Rijksdaalder ('state dollar'), a named derived from the Bohemian Taler (Joachimsthaler), 87.50 percent fine, with 25.264 grams fine silver, and a value of 47 stuivers; and the Leeuwendaalder ('lion dollar'), 74.30 percent fine, with 20.459 grams five silver, and a value of 38 stuivers. Their official values were raised to 52 and 42 stuivers, respectively, in 1659, when two new heavyweight coins were issued (both struck until 1798): the Rijder ('knight'), 93.80 percent fine, with 30.388 grams fine silver, and a value of 63 stuivers; and the Dukaat (ducat), 86.80 percent fine, with 24.241 grams fine silver, and a value of 50 stuivers. Surprisingly, not until 1681, when the stuiver 's silver contents were enhanced, was an actual coin named the Gulden finally issued, with a value of 20 stuivers: 91.10 percent fine, with 9.557 grams fine silver. It is also significant that during the seventeenth century, the Dutch stuiver and the English sterling penny, as issued from 1601, with 0.464 grams fine silver, were virtually identical in silver contents, so that each had the market exchange value of the other.

The gold coinages of early modern Europe, commanding lesser economic importance, thus deserve less attention. In medieval and early modern Europe, according to many historians, their use was reserved for international trade and finance, for a reason made obvious by this example: in the years 15211525, a single Venetian ducat or Florentine florin (both containing about 3.45 g fine gold) could be used to purchase, on average, 628 eggs or 243 herrings on the Antwerp market; an English gold "angel" noble (with 7.735 g fine gold) could be used to purchase, on average, 934 eggs or 362 herrings. Obviously, one would never spend gold coins for such transactions; instead, a silver stuiver would more likely have been used to purchase sixteen eggs or six herrings on the Antwerp market. Yet, in the seventeenth century, western European merchants chiefly employed heavyweight silver coins, and gold only infrequently, in conducting their trade with the Baltic, Russia, the Levant (eastern Mediterranean), and Asia, for three reasons. First, the initially wide divergences in the bimetallic ratiosthe ratio of the values of gold and silver, ounce per ounce, on the marketbetween East and West meant that silver had a much higher purchasing power in goods in these regions than it did in western Europe. The massive increases in European silver supplies, first from the central European mining boom, and then, by the 1560s, from the influx of Spanish American silver, reduced the relative value of silver, and thereby increased the bimetallic ratio in England from about 10:1 in the 1450s to 16:1, by the 1660s. But second, when the bimetallic ratios in India and London had then both achieved this level by the 1660sthanks to the massive inflows of western silver into Asiathe Asian payments systems were still designed to accommodate the well-known European silver coins more easily than their gold coins. Third, since western merchants had little of value in merchandise to sell in these regions, and thus required precious metals to purchase about 70 percent of the value of their eastern goods (spices, silks, etc.), the ships that sailed to these regions left western ports so empty that the silver, with from twelve to sixteen times the weight of the equivalent value of gold, served as a useful ballast. For reasons that seem less obvious to the economist, these large heavyweight silver coins also predominated, from the 1550s, in the international commerce of the great European fairs.

Nevertheless, within western Europe itself, before the large, heavy silver coins achieved their predominance, gold coins had served as the more useful medium of international exchange, for two reasons. The first, as just suggested, was a superior value: weight ratio, so that merchants requiring precious metals for their commerce (rather than bills of exchange) found it more economical to transport gold, when transport costs had become so high in war-torn late-medieval Europe. Second, gold coinages were far less subject to physical coinage debasements than were silver coins, especially those of small denomination. In view of the far higher value of gold coins, affluent merchants, engaged in international trade, were far more likely to test such coins for proper weight and fineness than were petty merchants using silver coins in domestic trade. Since

Gold Coinages Struck in Western Europe, 14561792
Year First Struck Year Last Struck Name of Coin Fineness in Carats: out of 24 Percentage Fineness Weight in Grams Pure Gold Content in Grams Value in Pence in Money of Account * Value in Local Currency as Decimal Pound Grams Pure Gold in the Pound Money of Account
England             *pound sterling    
1465 1525 Ryal, Rose Noble 23.875 99.48% 7.776 7.735 120 0.500 15.471
1465 1525 Angel-Noble 23.875 99.48% 5.184 5.157 80 0.333 15.471
1489 1525 Sovereign 23.875 99.48% 15.552 15.471 240 1.000 15.471
1526 1542 Sovereign 23.875 99.48% 15.552 15.471 270 1.125 13.752
1526 1542 Ryal, Rose Noble 23.875 99.48% 7.776 7.735 135 0.563 13.752
1526 1542 Crown 22.000 91.67% 3.714 3.404 60 0.250 13.617
1542 1545 Sovereign 23.000 95.83% 12.960 12.420 240 1.000 12.420
1542 1545 Ryal, Rose Noble 23.000 95.83% 6.480 6.210 120 0.500 12.420
1545 1546 Sovereign 22.000 91.67% 12.441 11.405 240 1.000 11.405
1545 1546 Ryal, Rose Noble 22.000 91.67% 6.221 5.702 120 0.500 11.405
1546 1549 Sovereign 20.000 83.33% 12.441 10.368 240 1.000 10.368
1546 1549 Ryal, Rose Noble 20.000 83.33% 6.221 5.184 120 0.500 10.368
1546 1549 Crown 20.000 83.33% 3.110 2.592 60 0.250 10.368
1549 1550 Sovereign 22.000 91.67% 10.978 10.063 240 1.000 10.063
1549 1550 Ryal, Rose Noble 22.000 91.67% 5.489 5.031 120 0.500 10.063
1549 1550 Crown 22.000 91.67% 2.744 2.516 60 0.250 10.063
1550 1551 Sovereign 23.875 99.48% 15.552 15.471 288 1.200 12.892
1550 1551 Ryal, Rose Noble 23.875 99.48% 7.776 7.735 144 0.600 12.892
1551 1553 Sovereign 22.000 91.67% 11.310 10.368 240 1.000 10.368
1551 1553 Ryal, Rose Noble 22.000 91.67% 5.655 5.184 120 0.500 10.368
1551 1553 Crown 22.000 91.67% 2.828 2.592 60 0.250 10.368
1553 1560 Sovereign 23.875 99.48% 15.552 15.471 360 1.500 10.314
1553 1560 Ryal, Rose Noble 23.875 99.48% 7.776 7.735 180 0.750 10.314
1560 1593 Sovereign 23.875 99.48% 15.552 15.471 360 1.500 10.314
1560 1572 Ryal, Rose Noble 23.875 99.48% 7.776 7.735 180 0.750 10.314
1560 1593 Sovereign 22.000 91.67% 11.310 10.368 240 1.000 10.368
1560 1572 Crown 22.000 91.67% 2.828 2.592 60 0.250 10.368
1572 1578 Crown 23.875 99.48% 2.592 2.578 60 0.250 10.314
1593 1601 Sovereign 22.000 91.67% 11.310 10.368 240 1.000 10.368
1593 1601 Crown 22.000 91.67% 2.828 2.592 60 0.250 10.368
1601 1604 Sovereign 22.000 91.67% 11.142 10.213 240 1.000 10.213
1601 1604 Crown 22.000 91.67% 2.785 2.553 60 0.250 10.213
1604 1612 Unite 22.000 91.67% 10.033 9.197 240 1.000 9.197
1604 1612 Crown 22.000 91.67% 2.508 2.299 60 0.250 9.197
1605 1612 Rose Ryal 23.875 99.48% 13.824 13.752 360 1.500 9.168
1612 1623 Rose Ryal 23.875 99.48% 13.824 13.752 396 1.650 8.334
1612 1623 Crown 23.875 99.48% 2.304 2.292 66 0.275 8.334
1612 1623 Unite 22.000 91.67% 10.038 9.202 264 1.100 8.365
1612 1623 Crown 22.000 91.67% 2.510 2.300 66 0.275 8.365
1623 1626 Rose Ryal 23.875 99.48% 12.581 12.516 360 1.500 8.344
1623 1626 Unite 22.000 91.67% 9.103 8.345 240 1.000 8.345
1623 1626 Crown 22.000 91.67% 2.276 2.086 60 0.250 8.345
1626 1649 Rose Ryal 23.875 99.48% 8.387 8.344 240 1.000 8.344
1626 1649 Unite 22.000 91.67% 9.103 8.345 240 1.000 8.345
1626 1649 Double Crown 22.000 91.67% 4.552 4.172 120 0.500 8.345
1626 1649 Crown 22.000 91.67% 2.276 2.086 60 0.250 8.345
1649 1660 Unite 22.000 91.67% 9.103 8.345 240 1.000 8.345
1649 1660 Crown 22.000 91.67% 2.276 2.086 60 0.250 8.345
1660 1686 Rose Ryal 23.875 99.48% 8.387 8.344 240 1.000 8.344
1660 1686 Unite 22.000 91.67% 9.103 8.345 240 1.000 8.345
1660 1686 Crown 22.000 91.67% 2.276 2.086 60 0.250 8.345
1686 1703 Unite 22.000 91.67% 8.387 7.689 240 1.000 7.689
Gold Coinages Struck in Western Europe, 14561792
Year First Struck Year Last Struck Name of Coin Fineness in Carats: out of 24 Percentage Fineness Weight in Grams Pure Gold Content in Grams Value in Pence in Money of Account * Value in Local Currency as Decimal Pound Grams Pure Gold in the Pound Money of Account
England             *pound sterling    
1686 1703 Double Crown 22.000 91.67% 4.194 3.844 120 0.500 7.689
1703 1718 Unite 22.000 91.67% 8.387 7.689 240 1.000 7.689
1703 1718 Double Crown 22.000 91.67% 4.194 3.844 120 0.500 7.689
1718 1815 Guinea 22.000 91.67% 8.387 7.689 252 1.050 7.322
1718 1815 Half Guinea 22.000 91.67% 4.194 3.844 126 0.525 7.322
France             *livre tournois    
1456 1483 écu neuf 23.125 96.35% 3.447 3.322 330 1.375 2.416
1474 1494 écu couronne 23.125 96.35% 3.399 3.275 363 1.513 2.166
1494 1519 écu sol 23.125 96.35% 3.496 3.369 435 1.813 1.859
1519 1541 écu sol 23.000 95.83% 3.439 3.296 480 2.000 1.648
1541 1550 écu croisé 23.000 95.83% 3.439 3.296 540 2.250 1.465
1550 1561 Henri d'or 23.000 95.83% 3.653 3.501 600 2.500 1.400
1561 1573 écu d'or 23.000 95.83% 3.376 3.235 600 2.500 1.294
1573 1575 écu d'or 23.000 95.83% 3.376 3.235 648 2.700 1.198
1575 1602 écu d'or 23.000 95.83% 3.376 3.235 720 3.000 1.078
1602 1640 écu d'or 23.000 95.83% 3.376 3.235 780 3.250 0.995
1640 1643 écu d'or 23.000 95.83% 3.376 3.235 1248 5.200 0.622
1640 1669 Louis d'or 22.000 91.67% 6.752 6.189 2400 10.000 0.619
1643 1669 écu d'or 23.000 95.83% 3.376 3.235 1254 5.225 0.619
1655 1669 Lis d'or 23.250 96.88% 4.046 3.919 1680 7.000 0.560
1669 1687 Louis d'or 22.000 91.67% 6.752 6.189 2640 11.000 0.563
1687 1689 Louis d'or 22.000 91.67% 6.752 6.189 2700 11.250 0.550
1689 1693 Louis à l'écu 22.000 91.67% 6.752 6.189 3000 12.500 0.495
1693 1704 Louis aux 4 lions 22.000 91.67% 6.752 6.189 3360 14.000 0.442
1704 1709 Louis aux 8 lions 22.000 91.67% 6.752 6.189 3600 15.000 0.413
1709 1716 Louis aux 8 lions 22.000 91.67% 8.158 7.479 4800 20.000 0.374
1716 1718 Louis Noailles 22.000 91.67% 12.238 11.218 7200 30.000 0.374
1718 1720 Louis Malte 22.000 91.67% 9.790 8.974 8640 36.000 0.249
1719 1720 Quinzain 23.875 99.48% 3.737 3.717 3600 15.000 0.248
1720 1723 Louis aux 2 lions 22.000 91.67% 9.790 8.974 12960 54.000 0.166
1723 1726 Louis mirliton 22.000 91.67% 6.527 5.983 6480 27.000 0.222
1726 1740 Louis lunettes 22.000 91.67% 8.158 7.479 4800 20.000 0.374
1740 1785 Louis bandeau (lunettes) 22.000 91.67% 8.158 7.479 5760 24.000 0.312
1785 1792 Louis écu 22.000 91.67% 7.649 7.011 5760 24.000 0.292
Southern Netherlands             *pond groot Flemish    
1466 1467 Florin de Bourgogne 19.000 79.17% 3.399 2.691 41.00 0.171 15.753
1467 1474 Philippus Florin 19.000 79.17% 3.399 2.691 42.00 0.175 15.378
1474 1477 Florin de Bourgogne 19.000 79.17% 3.399 2.691 48.00 0.200 13.456
1477 1482 Florin de Bourgogne 19.000 79.17% 3.399 2.691 54.00 0.200 13.456
1482 1487 Florin de Bourgogne 19.000 79.17% 3.399 2.691 60.00 0.250 10.765
1487 1489 Grand réal 23.792 99.13% 14.834 14.705 432.00 1.800 8.169
1487 1489 Noble de Bourgogne 23.792 99.13% 7.417 7.352 216.00 0.900 8.169
1489 1492 Florin de Bourgogne 19.000 79.17% 3.399 2.691 40.00 0.167 16.147
1489 1492 Double Florin 23.792 99.13% 5.563 5.514 80.00 0.333 16.543
1492 1495 Florin de Bourgogne 19.000 79.17% 3.399 2.691 48.00 0.200 13.456
1492 1495 Florin de Bourgogne 18.500 77.08% 3.263 2.516 46.00 0.192 13.124
1495 1496 Florin de Bourgogne 19.000 79.17% 3.399 2.691 54.00 0.225 11.961
1496 1499 Toison d'or 23.792 99.13% 4.491 4.452 96.00 0.400 11.130
1496 1499 Philippus Florin 16.000 66.67% 3.308 2.205 48.00 0.200 11.025
Gold Coinages Struck in Western Europe, 14561792
Year First Struck Year Last Struck Name of Coin Fineness in Carats: out of 24 Percentage Fineness Weight in Grams Pure Gold Content in Grams Value in Pence in Money of Account * Value in Local Currency as Decimal Pound Grams Pure Gold in the Pound Money of Account
Southern Netherlands (cont.)             *pond groot Flemish    
1499 1521 Toison d'or 23.792 99.13% 4.491 4.452 100.00 0.417 10.685
1499 1521 Philippus Florin 16.000 66.67% 3.308 2.205 50.00 0.208 10.584
1500 1521 Philippus Florin 15.917 66.32% 3.308 2.194 50.00 0.208 10.529
1521 1556 réal d'or 23.792 99.13% 5.321 5.275 127.00 0.529 9.968
1521 1556 Carolus florin 14.000 58.33% 2.914 1.700 42.00 0.175 9.712
1556 1559 réal d'or 23.792 99.13% 5.321 5.275 140.00 0.583 9.042
1556 1559 couronne d'or 22.292 92.88% 3.423 3.180 80.00 0.333 9.538
1559 1567 couronne d'or 22.292 92.88% 3.423 3.180 82.00 0.342 9.306
1567 1572 florin de Bourgogne 18.583 77.43% 3.263 2.527 68.00 0.283 8.918
1572 1574 florin de Bourgogne 18.583 77.43% 3.263 2.527 69.00 0.288 8.789
1574 1576 florin de Bourgogne 18.583 77.43% 3.263 2.527 71.00 0.296 8.541
1576 1577 florin de Bourgogne 18.583 77.43% 3.263 2.527 76.50 0.319 7.927
1577 1577 double florin 20.000 83.33% 3.022 2.518 80.00 0.333 7.554
1577 1579 double florin 20.000 83.33% 3.022 2.518 86.00 0.358 7.027
1579 1580 rose noble 23.792 99.13% 7.649 7.582 265.00 1.104 6.867
1580 1581 double ducat 23.583 98.26% 7.199 7.074 240.00 1.000 7.074
1581 1589 double ducat 23.583 98.26% 7.199 7.074 268.00 1.117 6.335
1589 1590 double ducat 23.583 98.26% 7.199 7.074 271.00 1.129 6.264
1590 1599 double ducat 23.583 98.26% 7.199 7.074 284.00 1.183 5.978
1599 1609 double ducat 23.583 98.26% 6.993 6.920 300.00 1.250 5.536
1599 1609 Albertin 19.000 79.17% 2.914 2.307 100.00 0.417 5.536
1609 1610 Albertin 19.000 79.17% 2.914 2.307 104.50 0.435 5.298
1610 1612 Albertin 19.000 79.17% 2.914 2.307 105.00 0.438 5.272
1612 1614 Sovereign 23.708 98.79% 5.153 5.090 240.00 1.000 5.090
1614 1621 Couronne (crown) 21.167 88.19% 3.411 3.009 144.00 0.600 5.014
1621 1666 Sovereign 22.750 94.79% 5.531 5.243 266.00 1.108 4.731
1621 1666 Couronne (crown) 21.500 89.58% 3.411 3.056 160.00 0.667 4.584
1666 1700 Sovereign 22.750 94.79% 5.531 5.243 300.00 1.250 4.194
1700 1703 Sovereign 22.750 94.79% 5.531 5.243 400.00 1.667 3.146
1702 1713 Sovereign 22.750 94.79% 5.531 5.243 300.00 1.250 4.194
Florence             *lira di denari piccioli    
1466 1467 florin 23.652 98.55% 3.541 3.489 1344 5.600 0.623
1485 1485 florin 23.681 98.67% 3.528 3.481 1476 6.150 0.566
1485 1486 florin 23.861 99.42% 3.528 3.507 1500 6.250 0.561
1490 1490 florin 23.444 97.68% 3.528 3.446 1560 6.500 0.530
1490 1491 florin 23.530 98.04% 3.528 3.459 1560 6.500 0.532
1491 1492 florin 23.542 98.09% 3.528 3.460 1560 6.500 0.532
1510 1511 florin 23.831 99.30% 3.509 3.485 1680 7.000 0.498
1511 1511 florin 23.482 97.84% 3.509 3.434 1680 7.000 0.491
1511 1512 florin 23.516 97.98% 3.509 3.439 1680 7.000 0.491
1524 1525 florin 23.472 97.80% 3.500 3.423 1680 7.000 0.489
1530 1533 scudo 22.500 93.75% 3.412 3.199 1680 7.000 0.457
1531 1531 florin 23.820 99.25% 3.500 3.474 1800 7.500 0.463
1533 1535 scudo 22.000 91.67% 3.395 3.112 1680 7.000 0.445
1535 1548 scudo 22.000 91.67% 3.395 3.112 1740 7.250 0.429
1548 1556 scudo 22.000 91.67% 3.379 3.097 1740 7.250 0.427
1556 1571 scudo 22.000 91.67% 3.379 3.097 1824 7.600 0.407
1571 1597 scudo 22.000 91.67% 3.379 3.097 1824 7.600 0.407
Gold Coinages Struck in Western Europe, 14561792
Year First Struck Year Last Struck Name of Coin Fineness in Carats: out of 24 Percentage Fineness Weight in Grams Pure Gold Content in Grams Value in Pence in Money of Account * Value in Local Currency as Decimal Pound Grams Pure Gold in the Pound Money of Account
Spain             *ducat of 375 maravedis    
1537 1566 escudo 22.000 91.67% 3.383 3.101 350 0.933 3.323
1566 1609 escudo 22.000 91.67% 3.383 3.101 400 1.067 2.907
1609 1642 escudo 22.000 91.67% 3.383 3.101 440 1.173 2.643
1642 1643 escudo 22.000 91.67% 3.383 3.101 550 1.467 2.114
1643 1686 escudo 22.000 91.67% 3.383 3.101 510 1.360 2.280

gold coins were given a money-of-account value in terms of the silver coinage, merchants could easily have discounted the value of a debased gold coin by reducing its exchange value proportionately. If the silver stuiver were debased by, say, 10 percent, merchants and the public would have found it impracticable to discount its value from 2d to 1.8d; instead, they would have raised prices for merchandise to compensate for the lost silver. The other reason that explains why gold coins were so infrequently subjected to physical debasements was their symbolic relationship with sovereignty. Few princesor even city-state potentates, such as the doge of Venicewould have tolerated having their reputations tarnished abroad by allowing international circulation of their debased gold (or heavyweight silver) coins; as indicated earlier, debasements of small-denomination silver coins posed no such threats since most circulated only within the prince's or city-state's territory. But, as with heavyweight silver coins, a government could effect a technical "debasement" of its gold coins by raising their domestic value in the silver-based money of account, as indicated in the accompanying table; that action was often necessary to maintain a desired bimetallic mint ratio when engaging in a silver debasement (which thus made silver coins relatively cheaper).

In later medieval and early modern Europe, by far the two most famous gold coins were the Florentine florin, struck from 1252 to 1533, and the Venetian ducat, struck from March 1285 (not 1284, as commonly stated) until the French invasion of 1797. In theory, both of these so-called "dollars" of the Middle Ages contained about the same amount of fine gold: 3.536 grams for the florin and 3.545 grams for the ducat; and, indeed, exchange-rate evidence for France, Flanders, and England for the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries reveals that they virtually always commanded identical values in each country's local currencies. In theory, both were supposedly pure gold of twenty-four carats, but in fact they usually contained about 23.875 carats (99.48 fine), the same as the English gold noble. But unlike the noble, which periodically (every fifty years or so) underwent weight reductions, the florin only infrequently varied in either weight or fineness, by any significant amount, according to the mint accounts. Such accounts are regrettably missing for the ducat, which has, perhaps for this reason, enjoyed a better reputation with monetary historians. As the accompanying table indicates, the fine gold content of the florin, during the years 1466 to 1531, varied from a high of 3.507 grams (1486) to a low of 3.423 grams (1524). The florin ceased to be issued in 1533, when its money-of-account value (originally twenty soldi or one lira of 240d, in 1252) had reached 7 lire 10 soldi in the Florentine moneta di piccioli ; from that date it became a silver-based money of account with that fixed value. The florin had been superseded by another gold coin, known as the scudo (or écu, in French), valued at exactly 7.0 lire, inferior in both fineness and weight to the florin. It was first struck in June 1530, with only 22.5 carats (93.75 percent fine) and a weight of 3.412 grams, and thus a fine gold content of 3.119 grams. In 1533, its fineness was reduced to 22 carats (91.67 percent fine), which was retained thereafter, but by 1548 its weight had fallen to 3.379 grams (3.097 g fine gold), while its official value has risen to 7 lire 12 soldi, increasing to 7 lire 12 soldi in 1556 (but remaining at that value for the rest of the century). As noted earlier, Florence also issued a series of heavyweight silver coins during this century.

In Venice, the ducat changed its name, though not its physical composition, in 1517 to become the zecchino (sequin d'or), a name derived from ducato di zecca (that is, ducat of the mint). The term ducat was then reserved for a silver-based money of account, with a fixed value of 6 lire 4 soldi Venetian (in current money). Subsequently (by or before 1563), the Venetians also issued a heavyweight silver coin, the ducato d'argento, more commonly called the piastra, containing 31.19 grams fine silver. All of these heavyweight silver coinsSpanish, Dutch, French, Italian, and Austriancommanded continuous international respect, chiefly because they were not subjected to physical debasements for the same reasons that the major gold coins were spared this fate. According to Herman Van der Wee, the European predominance of the large silver coins lasted until 1718, when Great Britain issued its famous gold guinea (22 carats, with 7.689 g fine gold); in doing sothough more by accident than design, in overvaluing the coin at 21 shillingsthe British inaugurated the modern era of the gold standard.

For monetary historians, as well as for numismatists, every gold and silver coin has its own interesting history. If a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps the following table on European gold coinages from the later fifteenth to late eighteenth centuries, will suffice to reveal the varieties of gold coinages and their almost continuous "debasements" in terms of the fine gold content in each principality's or city-state's money of account.

See also Banking and Credit ; Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; City-State ; Coins and Medals ; Commerce and Markets ; Dutch Republic ; Florence ; Francis I (France) ; Henry VIII (England) ; Netherlands, Southern ; Venice .


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John H. Munro

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Western Europe


Western Europe is a concept of rather recent origins, reflecting the postWorld War II split between those European countries that fell under Soviet domination and much of the rest of the continent. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the concept may become obsolete. Contemporary western Europe includes France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Low Countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands), Scandinavia, Britain, and certain small states such as Liechtenstein. Almost all of the countries of the European Union (EU) are in western Europe, although certain countries such as Norway and Switzerland have chosen not to be a part of the EU. Greece, on the other hand, has joined the EU but is rarely considered to be part of western Europe.

At varying levels, western European countries are intent on giving a European dimension to their education systems. However, the concept of western Europe and a European identity is constantly transforming because many countries from central and eastern Europe hope to join the EU in the coming years and are also committed to a European dimension in education.

Educational Roots

The European educational tradition traces its roots directly to the establishment of universities toward the end of the Middle Ages. These universities generally emphasized special fields of knowledge, such as law, medicine, philosophy, and theology. Although the primary beneficiaries of medieval schooling were clergymen, separate schools were established where children of merchants and masters, and even females, could develop literacy skills.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the intellectuals engaged in a struggle to incorporate classical humanistic studies into the curriculum, known generally as the liberal arts. Secondary schools emerged at this time, serving the rising middle class and providing university preparation as well as a liberal arts curriculum. At the time of the Reformation, primary schools were established, which were separate from the universities and secondary schools, both in terms of the pupils they served and the programs of studies they provided. Consequently, a basic dualistic educational structure emerged, reflecting the highly stratified social structure in Europe: universities and higher schools served elites, while primary schools served the masses.

By the seventeenth century, classical ideals and religious loyalties gave way to educational efforts in the name of nationalism and vernacular languages began to prevail over Greek and Latin. Many thinkers saw the advantages of popular education to address national concerns, regardless of gender or class.

There was some variation as to the structure of the state-run education systems in different European countries. Germany created different educational tracks, which provided separate schools for future leaders of the state and for the common people. Its system tended to become the model for other countries that were establishing their own state systems. Following the French Revolution in 1789, France moved toward universal, popular education, where citizenship was to be emphasized over religious values.

By the nineteenth century, Germany achieved nearly universal literacy within the dualist system, due in part to compulsory schooling. In contrast to Germany and France, education in England was not nationalized until the twentieth century and has historically been one of the most decentralized systems in Europe. In fact, England did not create a Ministry of Education until 1944.

Even though the state gained control over the educational enterprise in all the countries, it recognized the importance of the private sector. The major issue in the struggle between church and state was not so much school sponsorship, but school control. In some areas, where there are strong religious cleavages, such as the Netherlands and Belgium, the state has continued to rely on the church to sponsor most of its schools. Consequently, more than 70 percent of the children in the Netherlands and 45 percent in Belgium attend private schools. In more homogeneous populations, such as Norway and Sweden, the state has monopolized schooling to such an extent that less than 3 percent of the children attend private schools. In contrast to areas such as the United States, which maintain a strong separation of church and state, all European states continue to provide substantial financial and regulatory support for private schooling. The level of state support is usually correlated with the level of state control. Private schools that receive support equivalent to public schools are usually under tight state control, while schools that receive less support have more autonomy. Another feature of state regulation concerns private school teachers, who must usually be certified in the same manner as public school teachers and whose salaries are usually defined by the state.

Reform in the Twentieth Century

During the twentieth century, the major school reform issue was social justice, as advocates of change stressed the need to achieve greater participation of all young people in schooling in order to prepare them to participate more fully in the economy of the state.

By the 1950s, all western European countries had adopted compulsory education requirements, and children were required to begin school from as early as age five in England to as late as age seven in the Scandinavian countries. School quickly became mandatory for seven or eight years in age-graded schools, although the length of mandatory schooling has increased in most countries. Compulsory education continues until age fourteen in Italy; age fifteen in Austria, Greece, and Portugal; and age sixteen in most other countries. In countries such as Germany and Belgium, students are required to stay in school on a part-time basis until the age of eighteen. The age requirements of compulsory schooling continue to be important, for it is in the state's interest that all citizens acquire a thorough basic education, though it is also important that the age when students leave school coincide more or less with the age when they enter the workforce.

As schooling became universal and the age requirement was extended, some structural reforms were necessary. The major cultural symbol of educational reform in western Europe has been some form of comprehensive school structure that can provide a common schooling experience. At the primary school level, Norway and Sweden adopted a common school even prior to the turn of the twentieth century. France mandated a common primary school in the 1930s, and just before the end of World War II, Great Britain joined most western European countries by adopting a policy of common primary schooling. Germany did not realize common primary schooling until democratization policies were adopted after World War II. By this time all western Europe maintained universal primary schools lasting from four to six years.

Once universal primary schooling was accomplished, the focus of school reform shifted to the secondary level. Sweden led the way in 1949 when it adopted a plan for a universal common nine-year school. Sweden was followed by other countries, such as Italy, Norway, and France, while other western European countries engaged in comprehensive school reforms with varying degrees of success. The German-speaking countries, for example, have been reluctant to move away from the dualistic tradition. Toward the end of the twentieth century, conservatives called the comprehensive school agenda into question, although in some countries the liberal reform agenda continued to take priority.

During the twentieth century, the curriculum debate, which had previously focused on the struggle between religious instruction and a study of the classics, was no longer relevant in societies that were becoming more interested in scientific and practical training. Questioning the classical curriculum was initially due to the humanist realism philosophies that emphasized the importance of experience and practice in education. However, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, schools recognized the need for a more expansive curriculum. In 1974, Norway, for example, adopted eight branches in its upper secondary school structure: general education, manual and industrial studies, arts and crafts, fishing and maritime studies, sports, clerical and commercial studies, domestic arts and sciences, and social and health studies.

Some countries, such as Norway, have chosen to harmonize general studies and vocational studies by emphasizing the practical aspects of general studies and making vocational studies more academic and theoretical. What this means is that progress has been made in bringing the two worlds together by requiring that the vocational studies programs look more like the general studies programs. This trend has been accompanied by a substantial increase in enrollments of students planning on attending higher education.

All European countries offer vocational training in addition to the general curriculum. French students, for example, can opt for one of the vocational or technical tracks at around age fourteen or fifteen. Two major vocational education models exist. West Germany developed a dual-system model in the 1950s and 1960s, requiring upper secondary students to attend formal school for two half days or one full day and to be under supervision in the work environment for the rest of the week. In contrast, the French model places young people in formal schooling full-time until the end of compulsory attendance, when they may become full-time vocational students. The major distinction in the two models is that German youth are exposed to the work world at a much earlier age. In some countries, such as Norway, researchers and policymakers have structured their system so that a full range of options is available. In all systems, it is difficult for students to return to a university track once they move to vocational and technical training. As can be expected, countries have developed systems of orientation to deal with tracking issues.

Another debate that carried into the twentieth century from past centuries is one concerning the role of the central government in education. Contrary to previous efforts at the time of the Reformation and the French Revolution that favored an exclusively state-controlled school, the postWorld War II movement has been toward decentralization of control from the state to local school authorities. Both private and state schools tend to be centralized in terms of state funding, but decentralized in the administration and management of schools. This enterprise has the aim of making schools more autonomous and democratic by encouraging parental and community involvement. This trend is especially evident in Denmark, England, Italy, Scotland, and Spain and can even be found in countries where education has been historically quite centralized, such as France and Sweden.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, the different political forces in Europe began moving away from an emphasis on social justice and toward individual choice and economic advantage. The social-democrat position had attempted to be more inclusive of the needs of disadvantaged groups, including women, immigrants, and the poor, stressing cultural imperatives. In contrast, conservative efforts of the 1980s and early 1990s focused more on market-oriented policies, emphasizing school choice, privatization, and other economic imperatives. In the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Sweden, for example, the issue of choice has driven reform discourse into the twenty-first century. Conservative governments have tried to reverse past trends, and their reforms might be seen partly as an attempt to address discontent among parents, particularly among the middle classes, who have been dissatisfied with what they deem declining standards of state-provided education. In the United Kingdom in 1981, the Conservatives introduced an assisted place scheme, providing a state subsidy to poorer parents whose children were previously less able to gain entry to private schools.

Of course, the market-oriented trend was not identical across Europe. Furthermore, some may argue that there has not been a significant change in education due to the ideological differences of different governments. Nevertheless, European education systems at the end of the twentieth century experienced a general movement toward further decentralization and deregulation of state control.

Contemporary Reform Trends

With the creation and opening up of the European Union, educational systems are tending to become more alike. This tendency has been in process at least since the establishment of the Council of Europe in 1949 and of the European Community in 1967. In education, policymakers have thus far stressed the value of each nation's historical development by maintaining the linguistic and cultural diversity of individual European countries. Nevertheless, the Council of Europe is interested in developing a European dimension to education. The goal is not to abolish national differences in favor of a European identity, but to strive for unity in diversity. One way the Council of Europe has attempted to create a pan-European identity is by organizing teachers' conferences that focus on how to avoid national stereotyping and bias in curricula and textbooks. Educational reforms in the twenty-first century illustrate a move away from discovering how to be Dutch or English, and instead learning how to think of oneself as European.

In primary and secondary education, language has been one of the most important issues. As there are eleven different official languages in the European Union, most European schools have decided to teach more languages and to begin teaching them as early as possibleusually in primary school. Moreover, because many European schools are decentralized and some do not even have a central curriculum, language training is one of the ways to bring the European dimension into the curriculum. Such is the case in the Netherlands, where students must prepare for the foreign language and culture component of their exams. Language instruction in all EU countries must be developed for participation in academic exchanges in other countries, which will also contribute to creating a European identity.

These exchanges are an important part of the European dimension agenda in education, and they occur at all levels, from primary school to higher education and teacher and vocational training. The European Union project SOCRATES is useful in improving the quality of language training and school partnerships at the primary and secondary level with the LINGUA and COMENIUS programs (subsets of SOCRATES). Involving both EU and non-EU countries (about 30 total), SOCRATES promotes the buildup of European knowledge and a better response to the major challenges facing the contemporary world. To achieve these goals, it utilizes student exchange, cooperative projects, European networks, and research studies.

At the higher-education level, all national systems have grown massively in terms of student numbers, institutions, faculties, and courses. While university reforms in the twentieth century were few, limited in scope, and rarely applied, fundamental changes are beginning to occur in the early twenty-first century. The most far-reaching reform agenda is related to the Bologna Declaration of 1999, signed by twenty-nine European countries. The declaration aims to establish, by 2010, a common framework of readable and comparable university degrees, including both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. This framework will be relevant to the labor market, will have compatible credit systems, and will ensure a European dimension. In Italy, for example, the new higher-education system has a first cycle that lasts three years and leads to an undergraduate degree, a second cycle that lasts two years and leads to a postgraduate degree, and a final three-year program resulting in a doctorate. Within these general constraints, the universities are given great autonomy in terms of programs and administration.

Another major innovation is the development of a European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), meant to enhance cooperation between universities. It is embryonic and completely voluntary, but suggests the development of a process for determining curricular transparencies and equivalencies of grades, course credits, and degrees. ECTS enables students to receive credit in their home university or to transfer permanently to the host institution or to a third institution, mainly by generating transcripts that translate the different educational systems into an internationally recognized document.

Student exchange has also become a major policy issue. ERASMUS is an exchange project under SOCRATES that allows university students to participate in exchanges in universities throughout the European Union and receive credit at their home university. The creation of the ECTS renders such an exchange possible for students who may not have the time or finances to take courses that will not count towards their degree. This cooperation between universities does not necessarily mean that they will become identical, but it does suggest the importance of transparency, as well as trust that other universities are equal in quality to one's own. This trust must also be extended to a mutual recognition of diplomas at all levels of the education system, which puts pressure on the various countries to maintain acceptable standards.

One of the difficulties that has arisen regarding exchanges is that they often must be reciprocal, and people may thus be discouraged from taking part in an exchange in countries with less widely spoken languages, such as Dutch or Danish. While many people study English, French, or German and could fathom spending a year in a university where one of these languages is spoken, students may hesitate to study in a country where they are not proficient in the language. One solution at the university level is to offer some courses in a more widely spoken language. Such is the case at the University of Amsterdam, where 25 percent of the classes are taught in English. Another solution at the primary and secondary levels is to create bilingual programs, especially in the border regions of a country.

Future Challenges

Some of the immediate challenges for Europe at the beginning of the twenty-first century include those surrounding educational mobility. Educational exchanges are sometimes not possible financially. Although in principle students can freely occupy available places in member states with identical fees and financial aid, grants from the home country are not always available for studies abroad, an issue that has arisen in the Netherlands. Furthermore, language skills will need to be further valued and developed if exchanges are to be reciprocally appreciated and practiced between the countries of the European Union and possibly with other countries on the European continent and elsewhere. Europeans will need to make special efforts to improve language skills in order to encourage the maximum success of exchange projects.

In addition to developing students' language skills, schools are also facing the task of dealing with societal and economic demand for people who are technology and information literate. The schools themselves must learn to cope with an ever-changing world, where people have to learn how to adapt rather than to learn a stable and firm body of knowledge. Schools need to remain current so that they can help students respond to contemporary exigencies.

At the higher-education level, open distance-learning universities exist in countries such as Britain, Spain, and Portugal to help students adapt to change by way of professional and technological training. These universities need to continue to be developed to accommodate people in the workforce who would like to update their skills, or students from other countries who do not have access to adequate universities, but who cannot necessarily live abroad or reside on a university campus for extended periods of time.

A higher-education issue that EU members must address more systematically involves greater compliance in the recognition of diplomas and certification between countries. Some countries, such as the Netherlands, have even suggested the granting of double degrees between the national institution and an associated institution. University overcrowding and high unemployment throughout Europe are not simplifying the dilemma, and there is a concern that the costly expansion of the university may lower the quality of education and lead to the devaluation of degrees.

These issues need to be considered throughout Europe, because the greatest challenge for many countries, perhaps to even a greater extent for the smaller countries, is to preserve national differences in the creation of a European unity. As various countries from central and eastern Europe plan to become part of the European Union, and borders are fading on a global level, recognizing and respecting institutional differences may be key to the success in efforts to establish unity in diversity.

See also: Curriculum, International; Distance Learning in Higher Education; International Education.


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Brock, Colin, and Tulasiewicz, Witold, eds. 2000. Education in a Single Europe. London: Routledge.

Council of Europe Publishing. 2000. Strategies for Educational Reform: from Concept to Realization. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe Publishing.

Dalin, Per, and Rust, Val D. 1996. Towards Schooling for the Twenty-First Century. London: Cassell.

Peck, Bryan T. 1998. Issues in European Education. Commack, NY: Nova Science.

Power, Edward J. 1991. A Legacy of Learning: A History of Western Education. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Val D. Rust

Traci Wells

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