of transitions from education to work in Europe
Issues for discussion
you have been involved in the CATEWE project, which stands for 'comparative
analysis of transitions from education to work in Europe'. Your methodological
objective in this project was to develop proposals to harmonise existing
school leavers' surveys in the particular countries. What was the challenge
in this harmonisation?
our approach was quantitative, it actually raised similar issues to Anja's,
but in completely different ways. The problem of quantitative research
is not that you are negotiating meaning within your subjects, but that
you are confronting meanings already embedded in the data that you are
analysing. This is the case in the project CATEWE, which is engaged in
a secondary analysis of existing data.
the project was trying to do as a whole was to conceptualise and identify
what we call transition systems: What are the main features which distinguish
different countries' arrangements - institutional, social, cultural etc.
- for the transition from vocational education to work, and how do those
transition systems shape the processes? For instance, in different transition
systems you might find different types of relationships between educational
qualifications and employment or unemployment; you might find different
patterns of gender or class or other inequalities. So those are the kinds
of questions we were addressing.
looked at two data sets. One was the European Union labour force survey,
which had the advantage of formal comparability - and I stress formal comparability
-, because you have really got the definitions of both national and EUROSTAT
statisticians built into these data sets. But on the other hand, they didn't
ask a lot of questions about transitions; it wasn't at least at that time
a longitudinal survey. We also tried to link data sets from five national
school leavers surveys, which had contrasting strengths and weaknesses.
The surveys individually were all constructed for nationally specific purposes;
they used nationally specific definitions; the frames of reference were
very different. On the other hand, they did provide more details of transition
from education to work. So we had these two rather complementary types
methodological objective was to learn from this experience and to try to
make recommendations on what future data sets in Europe or generally cross-national
research on transitions might look like. To conclude, I would like to identify
two key issues that confronted us. First, there were practical, tangible
problems with our data sets: for example, they might lack a particular
variable, - in France it was almost impossible to ask questions about ethnicity,
and in a lot of countries surprisingly there were not questions asked about
the social backgrounds of children – and the actual information we had
available varied very much from survey to survey. But also, more importantly,
underlying all this there were different conceptualisations of some of
the key categories and key terms of transition.
simple example of that: We at least pragmatically defined our survey as
secondary school leavers surveys. Underlying that is the fact that 20 years
ago one tended to conceptualise the transition from education to work as
a single event: One day you are in school, the next day you are in a job,
or at least three days later. Now it's increasingly a complicated event
which in fact moves backwards and forwards between different state. Of
course, the way in which this longitudinal complexity works out varies
from country to country; the actual stages of activity you go through don't
follow as the same pattern in each country.
that context it is very hard to define a common conceptual frame of reference
that would apply equally to all countries. If you look for example at the
OECD indicators or the EUROSTAT key data they tend to be based on this
rather simplified model of a single transition. So the key event is either
the date when you complete education or the date when you enter the labour
market. Now, trying to define either of those terms in an unambiguous way
that makes sense in different countries is actually impossible. So our
recommendation was a very conceptually open model based on age cohorts.
This would be very difficult, probably very costly to follow through, but
would actually be the model that lay behind the PISA proposals which have
still unfortunately not won a lot of support from countries.
other issue was a more general one about comparative methodology. The approach
we were following was to try to construct a single data set on individual
young people that covered thousands of people in five countries from school
leavers surveys analyses. That assumes that one can actually construct
common variables across those five countries. An alternative approach which
a lot of other comparative work on transitions has taken uses the comparison
at a higher level of abstraction. Firstly you make analyses within countries,
following a country specific set of concepts using variables that might
or might not have a direct equivalence in other countries, and then rely
upon a higher level of abstraction, or theorisation perhaps, to make the
comparisons across countries. So I think the question that I wanted to
raise at the end is: given these two approaches to comparative methodology:
which is actually the more productive one in the long term? Maybe the answer
is - one needs a bit of both.