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Research on VET and HRD in Europe
Mapping HRD and VET research across Europe
Thematic patterns derived from a project analysis
Sabine Manning - April 2007

[Start> Introduction] [Section 1] [Section 2] [Section 3] [Main outcomes] [Abbreviations] [Descriptors] [Research areas

Section 1 - Range of research topics

This part of the analysis aims to show the thematic 'landscape' of research related to ENRR projects, by presenting the range of topics addressed by these projects. The topics have been identified by a set of 25 descriptors developed for mapping the contents of research resources in VET and HRD. 
In the figures below, these descriptors are presented by using abbreviated terms (for a complete presentation see Descriptors of VET and HRD research). Also, the descriptors are grouped by colour, thereby structuring the range of topics according to thematic aspects which are taken up in section 2 of this analysis. 
Figure 2 provides an initial view of the range of topics addressed by ENRR projects. For each project, all applicable descriptors have been selected from the total set of 25. The result is a thematic 'landscape' composed of 502 descriptors related to 221 projects.

Figure 2
Range of topics addressed by ENRR projects:
Distribution of thematic descriptors related to ENRR projects (n=221) as percentage of total descriptors (n=502)


Two characteristics of the 'landscape' displayed in figure 2 may be noted. One is that ENRR projects address the full range of topics covering HRD and VET research, even if in varying proportion. The other is that the topic 'economy' features as the most prominent, marking the highest proportion (13%). This topic, however, is a fairly complex one, including 'economy, business/ labour market/ social partners/ human capital', while some of the other topics may be more specific. Therefore, the variations between the topics in terms of percentages have to be interpreted with care.
More insight in the topic 'landscape' of ENRR projects can be reached by comparing this with data obtained from analysing EU projects (see figure 3).

Figure 3
Range of topics addressed by ENRR and EU projects:
Distribution of thematic descriptors related to ENRR projects (n=221) and to EU projects (n=30) as percentage of total descriptors (n=502; n=143)

NOTE: The ENRR projects are presented in the same colours as in figure 2.

In the figure above, the proportions of the newly added topics of the EU projects (black columns) appear to differ quite a lot from those of the ENRR projects (coloured columns). Most clearly this can be realised from comparing the most highly represented topics in both cases, as follows:

  • The topic 'economy', as the peak among ENRR projects (see figure 2), by far exceeds its counterpart among EU projects;
  • The topics 'competences' and 'learning' are the most highly represented among EU projects.
These contrasts point to a major difference in priorities of research: While the ENRR projects, representing national interests, seem to focus on economic contexts, the EU projects tend to favour issues of competence development and learning.
The specific pattern of EU projects can be further considered by looking at the other prominent topics (see black columns): economy, enterprise, VET and worker. Considered as a group, they appear to present the broad context in which the top issues of competence and learning are explored. 
The ENRR projects, by contrast (see coloured columns), have a large range of medium priority topics, well below their prominent topic economy, including continuing vocational education, learning, training and competence development. These medium topics may be regarded as a range of themes investigated in close relation to the dominant economic dimension of HRD/VET. 

These differences in thematic pattern between ENRR and EU projects, observed by looking at the whole range of topics, will be taken up again in connection with identifying major thematic aspects of research (section 2 of this study).
The initial observations made about the thematic pattern of ENRR projects lead to a further question: To what extent is the thematic pattern shaped by projects carried out in the old as against the new countries? This is worth finding out, not least because the latter are to a far greater extent represented among the ENRR projects than among the EU projects. 
In order to identify specific features of old and new countries, the topic analysis of ENRR projects is applied in the following way: The most important topic of each project (rather than all topics addressed by one project) has been selected. This approach allows for a more distinct comparison between the thematic patterns of the two groups of projects (see figure 4).

Figure 4
Range of topics addressed by ENRR projects of old and new EU countries:
Distribution of thematic descriptors related to ENRR projects of old and new countries (descriptors/projects: old=n=141; new=n=80)


In comparing the thematic pattern of projects in the old (blue) and the new (red) EU countries, the following observations can be made:
Overall, the two patterns have a lot in common. This outcome matches the result obtained by an earlier investigation of ERO Base projects carried out by Petr Vicenik (see reference in table 2 - Introduction). This investigation was based on the total stock of projects collected in the ERO Base, using the original set of 12 ERO descriptors. The results of comparison showed that the order of interest about individual themes was largely similar for each group of EU countries. 

Turning to the special topics which have already been discussed in comparison with the EU projects (see figure 3), two outcomes are worth noting: 

  • First, the proportion of projects addressing the topic 'economy' is very high in both old and new EU countries. This priority, therefore, is typical of ENRR projects in general, in contrast to the EU projects. A possible reason for this could be that economic issues are much more embedded in the national context of R&D, which determines the ENRR projects, while they may be too complicated or sensitive to be taken up in EU supported research projects. 
  • Second, the topics showing marked differences are, on the one hand, 'competence' and 'learning' favoured by the old countries, and on the other hand, 'continuing vocational education' favoured by the new countries. These topics were also among those indicating contrasts between ENRR projects and EU projects (see figure 3 above). This combined evidence suggests that the ENRR projects of the old countries are fairly close to the EU projects in favouring 'competence' and 'learning'. It may be assumed that the old countries promoted these themes in the EU projects. The specific focus of the new countries on 'continuing vocational education', which is hardly reflected in EU projects, may result from their special needs of economic and societal reconstruction.
Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO