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Mapping HRD and VET research across Europe
Issues arising from an institutional analysis

Round table discussion at the HRD Conference in Tilburg 22-24 May 2006

Participants: Magdolna Benke, Rick Holden, Hedley Malloch, Sabine Manning, Barry Nyhan, Hanne Randle, Jim Stewart, Tarja Tikkanen, Claire Valentin

Chair: Barry Nyhan > Introduction (Presentation in PDF)

Contribution: Sabine Manning >Theses for discussion (the discussion below refers to the initial version of the theses - May 2006)

 Download proceedings of discussion (round tables in Tilburg and Geneva) in PDF
Barry Nyhan
This is an open discussion that begins with a number of very short comments by people on the issue of mapping HRD and VET research across Europe. The question posed is: what is the relationship between VET and HRD in a European context? This is a Cedefop driven project in many respects. From the outset it has to be said that it is part of the European Union agenda, so there is a vested interest in promoting a European concept of HRD, linked to a European concept of VET. In the European Union context, and Cedefop is involved in that, the task is to construct a European project, creating European meanings. It’s about creating shared meanings about the way we live, the way we sustain our economy, the way we sustain our society. There are lots of debates about a deeper or enlarged Europe, but the context is about building European values around HRD and VET, even if they are being debated on a daily basis. European values are about combining social inclusion with competitiveness. 
    When we look at HRD and VET we see that, while they have very different origins, the picture today is a picture of overlap, and some people use the terms interchangeably. Other people are very specific about VET and there are lots of theories about HRD. Here we are interested not so much in the theory of HRD and the theory of VET, but what are the practices, how are people living the HRD tradition, and how are people living the VET tradition. In the work that Sabine Manning is undertaking you see there are lots of disciplines, lots of values, lots of different perspectives shaping VET and HRD. VET and HRD are multidisciplinary subjects, they are not like other disciplines such as economics or law, but they are shaped by lots of different disciplines, and also shaped by the country context. So that's the purpose of this round table, to discuss these issues and to see where we are going. Is it a good idea to talk about a European context today? 
    In the next few minutes, I will talk a bit about the origin of the two traditions. Generally speaking, the VET tradition, which is much older than HRD, focuses on workers. One of the driving forces behind the formation of Cedefop were the European trade unions. There is a focus on workers, on intermediate and lower level skills; VET is traditionally about socio-political systems, about participation in working life and industrial democracy; improving the lot of the ordinary workforce through education and training, improving the quality of life and contributing to a more effective and economically prosperous society. The main focus of HRD, and certainly in its origin, is more about the performance of business and a focus on management. 
    But these boundaries are shifting enormously. There is a total overlap now, and maybe a certain degree of confusion and lack of clarity, but some of the debates I participated in have been about theory, and that doesn't often help us. It's much better to focus on the practice, what are people teaching and learning in the HRD curriculum, what are people teaching and learning in VET. For example in Germany, VET is more of an academic subject, there are faculties of VET teaching, which is very different maybe to the UK, to Ireland and other countries. But what's going on in these faculties, what are the values underlying their studies, what are their traditions? 
    Just to continue on the comparison of VET with HRD – origins of traditions [see PPT presentation, pp 3 to 5], this is an elaboration of what I said earlier about VET on the one hand where the focus is on professional identity, and HRD where the focus is on organisational identity. In its origin certainly, and in many practices today, there are two distinct orientations. For instance in Ireland, where I come from, VET is not an academic subject at all, it is hardly in universities; if you look at the Master's degree in an educational faculty, it is very unusual to find VET topics. It is largely concerned with general education. HRD is growing in importance in Ireland, but it is very much influenced by American, as distinct from European continental or Nordic thinking, social model.
    Finally, the strength and weaknesses of VET and HRD. One of the great strengths of HRD is that it brings organisational development into focus. VET on the other hand is very individually orientated, focusing on technology. Whereas VET is operating in the socio-political domain, it has lots of weaknesses in terms of a lack of modernisation, and innovative concepts. HRD doesn't often concern itself at the issues of the workers, and is promoting stressful high-performance work practices that are not contributing to quality of work for employees. 
Tarja Tikkanen
This discussion about VET and HRD in relationship in research and this new analysis on institutions is very interesting. I started wondering about this on my own, with the paper I wrote for the Limerick Conference in 2004, but I was looking at it in a more theoretical sense. My background is in adult education, in Finland in the department of education and in Norway in the research institute in adult education, so it's VET basically, but not in practice. Then I joined a working life research institute, and I'm looking at all of that from the point of view of learning and education. .
    The HRD approach also comes into the picture. The paper I mentioned was titled "Reconciling learning, HRD and well-being in the workplace". I come from the Nordic countries, so this well-being is very important. As I see it, there is not only the difference between vocational education and training and HRD, but separate from this, there is work-place learning, which is the learning taking place for example in small companies. They don't really have this HRD discussion or HRD departments, they don't have professionals in that area, but they do develop their employers too. There is learning and learning promotion taking place. In the research field, there are researchers who don't define themselves as researchers within HRD either, but they are very much focused on work-placed learning, like Stephen Billett from Australia. 
    HRD seems to be more about an issue of bigger companies, really the large companies,. But also in terms of research, it's more connected with organisations, it's not that individual. Work-place learning has both an individual and a collective focus, but HRD brings in a different context, and VET is very institutional, it's very formal, and there is a struggle within VET people how to match the reality at the moment. So in my opinion there are actually these three: HRD, VET and work-place learning. All this is about the knowledge and skills, we call it confidence in the Nordic countries. I know that British people are very uneasy about confidence, but it is a very broad concept for us. This work-place knowledge, this confidence, is also very much about the relationship of practical and theoretical. And the questions is how we grasp this from different disciplinary backgrounds.
    The discussion on working life in Norway is very similar to the rest of Europe, but the corresponding institutional response to that doesn't exist. So who are the winners: the consultants! It is true, if the companies need help they get it from the consultants. Research receives very little public funding for this area, and in the higher education system there is not a single professorship in adult education, whereas Finland has seven and Sweden has about two. 
    In the discussion we are trying to look for synergies, how to make sense out of these fragmented fields. But they have different disciplinary background: VET comes from an educational background, the adult education people are behind that; HRD is more related to economics and business and organisational studies etc. Both make valuable contributions, but probably it doesn't make sense, it's a lot of wasted energy and scarce resources in research, when it comes to participation in meetings and conferences etc, but that's a problem for academia rather than research I think. It reflects this division, the increasing complexity of work-related knowledge.
Magdolna Benke
This is a personal view, not an official opinion. A few words about the general picture of research in Hungary. There are serious regional inequalities, as higher education and most of the research is concentrated on Budapest. More than 40 % of research and development institutions are located in Budapest. Nearly two thirds of those who are employed in the research and development sector are working in the capital. 
    Another point is the prestige of VET and HRD research in the country. There are differences between VET and HRD research. The prestige of VET is very low, it lags behind the prestige of every other scientific subject.; While HRD is an academic subject, VET is not an academic subject. And this influences the connection between these two fields very much. Why is the prestige of VET research so low? This originates from the fact that education is not connected institutionally to the framework of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. There was a very good, high quality pedagogical institute which was closed down in 1981. Since that time, VET is somehow missing a strong professional background. Also, the connection and cooperation between VET and HRD research is not very deep. 
    Now I'd like to make some comments on the theses  of Sabine. I found approximately 25 institutions in Hungary which are dealing with VET and/or HRD research. Research is combined with teaching in the case of the universities and colleges, about 50% of the institutions belong to this group. The combination of research and development has a much higher role among our institutions, I would estimate two thirds of the institutions. Probably the reason for this is money; development is something that has existed for a long time. Fewer institutes are dealing with research and consulting, a much lower number than the European average. I found only one or two institutions where research is the only activity.
    The connection of research and other fields of sciences: ‘education’ is the strongest; I assume that ‘psychology’ is involved here. ‘Sociology’ is much stronger than ‘economics’. ‘Work related studies’ have a very low contribution. HRD/VET research on its own is only carried out in two or three big institutes. According to my experience, the embeddedness in other fields of sciences makes HRD/VET research more prosperous, but I have to stress that many research topics are missing.
    The proportion of VET specific research institutions is higher than the European average (according to the searched sample), maybe two thirds of the institutions belong here. The HRD specific research activity of institutions is lower in my country. 
HRD research is mostly focused on the labour market and employment patterns. There is not however too much emphasis on education and training unfortunately. HRD research is not about organisations. Before the 1990s many HRD research projects were based on research in organisations, in companies. Unfortunately nowadays it is nearly impossible to visit a company, we are not able to carry out research because they do not allow us to go into a company. This is the case especially in the multinational companies. So this has an important influence on research topics. 
    I would be glad to see more balanced research activity in Hungary, dealing with a much broader field of relevant topics. Some spheres of research are still missing, for example some theoretical subjects in VET. HRD research is much more academic, so the problems are mostly related to VET research, not to HRD. 
    These categories (framework, environment, system, process, actor) are coming together, should work together and support each other. Sometimes there are no links between the research topics and the real demands. E.g. methodological issues are important, but cannot be utilised on a higher level without the precise knowledge of the framework, the environment, the contextual factors etc. 
Hedley Malloch
My background is that I got into VET and HRD relatively late in life. For the last six years I've worked at the Catholic University of Lille. I became involved in a project launched in the North East of England to send a set of British apprentices through the French apprenticeship system. This came about because the group of business men and local authorities were disillusioned with the Modern Apprenticeship Scheme. In the first stage we were looking at the response of the British system to a demand for a Europeanisation or internationalisation, and later we were looking at the part of the French VET system through which they passed - the wonderful world of the French compagnonage. They are the oldest worker organisation in Europe, having been doing VET for 600 years, and also one of the largest VET providers in Europe. 
    In the first instance we looked at the lack of response with regard to a European perspective. I would first suggest before we have a European perspective we need an international one. We found that it was very difficult to get any type of response out of the British VET system to a demand like this; there is no demand for internationalisation, there is no demand for Europeanisation. There are up to 40 different agencies in the British VET system, but once you start going European you can add another twenty to that, such as Leonardo and Socrates. So if you've got to do research in this area you better make sure that your networks are in good order and that you've got a large stock of social capital. It has also got implications for some of the research skills which you need to do - because if you are going to these types of agencies you need to have a constructivist perspective on it. 
    We found that these institutions are all revolved around local targets. So they wouldn't supply any apprenticeships to this scheme, because it didn't do anything for local youth unemployment. The local colleges wouldn't supply the best kids for this scheme because that would mean that this would hit on the failure rates and in some cases on the performance related pay. The local skills council wouldn't do it either. So if you are interested in developing a European perspective on VET I think it would really require a revolution in the way in which the British agencies are structured. A colleague and I wrote a paper on this, and we came to the conclusion that not only is the British VET system incapable of providing upskilling, you couldn't import it either. So that's one of the perspectives that I came to from the research. 
    Later on we started doing research on the French compagnonage. I want to pick up a response here which Jim Stewart made in a paper which was circulated round on the HRDI. We came up against some of the effects of working in an institution which is dominated by positive economists, and also of working in an atmosphere where research is increasingly being termed by what sort of journals you find. I know that this is the case in the UK, but certainly in France too. Here the list of publications in which you can appear is given to you. So you write anything with HRD or VET in the title and you are told that you should publish this in the area for organisational studies. It's crazy.
    Coming now to the slide on the 'type of field related to HRD/VET within institutions' - what isn't on here? Management isn't on here, business studies isn't on here. Why not? For me that reflects a perception that HRD isn't really seen as mainstream, and VET isn't seen as mainstream either. And this is reflected all the way through the structure of universities. The reason is there is no demand for it. 
    Recent developments in VET have pointed to the importance of things like communities of practice, situated learning, learning which takes place within institutions. You could argue that if VET was to have a disciplinary base then that should be anthropology, rather than economics or sociology. But we live in institutions in which economists and sociologists are the dominant groupings. VET and HRD is what people who work in the field do. It's an entirely respectable area of study in its own right. I think whether it constitutes a separate field or academic discipline is an interesting argument, and one which perhaps reflects a wider concern, but at the end of the day it's what people in this field do, and we shouldn't really concern ourselves whether or not it's linked to another discipline. 
Barry Nyhan
Just a comment - management and business probably comes under economics.
Sabine Manning
Sorry, that's the problem of simplifying for a presentation...
Barry Nyhan
... but probably that doesn't take from Hedley's point that there's an economic kind of a foundation to much of HRD and indeed VET.
Jim Stewart
First an observation, as we are sitting in the Business School of Tilburg University: This has no connection at all with the faculty which is organising our conference - strange! It is called the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration and our conference is organised without any help or involvement from anybody in the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences.
    I have also got to thank Hedley for giving a British perspective, and that's not what I'm doing, I'm giving Jim Stewart's perspective, so you have the benefit of both.
    I'm going to make some observations on Barry's opening, and then some answers to the questions posed by Sabine in her presentation. 
    First on the theory - to the extent that we do have to theorise, in my theory at least I wouldn't suggest that HRD is th same as VET. On the European point, and again I agree with Hedley - he was suggesting that in the UK there is no national theory of HRD or VET. There is lots of research which demonstrates that there is no European model of HRD.
    Moving on to Sabine's questions, in thesis one on 'research activities' - what struck me was that research into and on teaching is something that is common within both HRD and VET, so it would be interesting to find out to what extent those two major activities are actually connected within institutions, to what extent these institutions who do a lot of research and a lot of teaching actually also research teaching, since teaching is a common interest to both HRD and VET. Furthermore, I think the links with consulting are much more important in HRD than they are in VET.
    Thesis three on the 'distinction between VET and HRD' - the thought that occurred to me there was that the overall picture suggested by institutional websites probably doesn't reflect institutional structures. The slide is suggesting a large quantity of shared HRD and VET. My suggestion is that that doesn't reflect what happens in institutions. It might be that institutions engage in both, but the people in institutions like here, in a business school, are doing things entirely independently, entirely separately; they are even avoiding areas of mutual interests and activities. So I think that amount of sharedness suggested by that slide probably doesn't reflect the kind of sharedness that is actually going on. 
    I'm now addressing your question on the European research communities in HRD and VET - speaking for myself and briefly as Chair of the University Forum of HRD: we certainly do support links between the academic and professional networks, and the Forum will be establishing  contact with the VET network. I belong to the snall group of people who have been to both conferences, I've been to ECER three or four times, and there is a lot of overlap in our research interests, a lot of overlap in the research being carried out, and a lot of valuable learning for each of us. We need to build much stronger links between the HRD and VET research communities.
    Thesis four on 'HRD and VET profiles' - the thing that occurred to me there was that the findings and comments support what I said earlier about the European model of HRD. The previous research would suggest that it's very difficult to identify any description or definition of HRD which would fairly accurately describe what is happening in the different countries in Europe. So there is no European model. 
    Thesis five on the 'European focus' - the observation that occurred to me again is the disparity between what might be suggested by institutional websites and what actually happens in practice. I think the conference papers will reflect the personal interests of individual academics. I think, to a significant extent, individual and personal interests of academics will be reflected in the projects, because whatever programmes are put on what comes back is what people are proposing in their own personal academic interests. 
Barry Nyhan
Would you say that they don't necessarily reflect institutional interests?
Jim Stewart
Correct, that's what I'm saying. So what I'd say is that the conference papers and the projects, to an extent, are explainable by personal interests of individual academics. I can't explain the institutional results, I am fairly certain the institutional results will reflect political and perhaps economic priorities rather than the interests of academics.
Barry Nyhan
A comment about the European model: I'm arguing for European practice – lived values -rather than a European model.
Rick Holden
I kept thinking what's the problem, the European problem in terms of research or practice. There are a whole series of national problems, and that led me to think it would be a shame if there were all sorts of national differences. And the other kind of observation I made was - who controls the public funded research activities within different countries in Europe, and who are the gate keepers of those processes, and how are those people influenced in terms of how they see us, the agenda for HRD or the agenda for VET, or the extent to which they are interlinked or separate. So those gate keepers of public funded research, to me, would be an interesting extension of the research you've done today, to look at that kind of dimension.
Claire Valentin
One thing that has struck me - what's the difference between HRD and VET? It seems - I think I agree with Jim to some extent - that VET is focused on society whereas HRD is focused on individual organisations. They've obviously got many intersections, as we know, but VET has generally featured national strategies and funding coming from the EU ,and thinking about which way we need to go, in terms of skills that we need for the future. That is quite a problematical  area, and I think that is something where HRD could have a bit more input. 
    HRD and VET have been two parallel universes - often with different literatures, but different people saying similar things and looking at similar things. Now it's no reason why everybody should get together, -, there are reasons why they are separate, but there are reasons also why they should collaborate. The experience of people in HRD and organisations might be useful to feed back to the development of VET policy, because both are basically about what we need to make our societies and businesses and organisations better for the future. And those are really important issues that people who are working in organisational learning need to be involved in.

Hanne Randle

I'm working at a small research centre ( in Sweden which has grown quite a lot in the last four years. The reason why we have grown is because our methods to combine research and development are in demand and traditional academic institutions do not supply this kind of developmental support through research. We have developed a method to work together with the practitioners, where we combine developmental work together with research, in order to develop both the academic knowledge and the practical use through a joint learning experience in a shared knowledge building process. We seem not to have a problem to find funding for research from the European social funds or from national sources because the financiers find us as an interesting party as we use untraditional research methods where we involve our practitioners in the research process in the aim to learn from developmental work and where new knowledge can change practice. There is a lot of demand to research issues that relate to developing the future society in general and developing new competences for future demands in specific. Research methods that seek to combine learning from practice and simultaneous trying new solutions with the support from researchers is highly demanded from different stakeholders such as government agencies, public employers, the health sector, SME’s and trade unions.
Sabine Manning
Just a point which Jim raised - you very rightly say that sharing themes of research doesn't mean that they jointly do this research. In the analysis, 'sharing' is simply used as a technical term to describe the overlap between HRD and VET research.
I lived in France and in Norway, and what I was thinking of when you were speaking was that the labour market is so different. I was just wondering if we can have such a shared HRD policy or European way of HRD. The context of HRD you are working in can be so different that it needs different policies and different ways of working in different contexts. So I wonder where the idea of a European HRD comes from.
Hedley Malloch
I think this idea comes from the idea of a common market, a common labour market, a common capital market, that does have some implications for transferability of labour between different countries. But if that's the only problem then perhaps research might be better concentrated on policy, on something like VET practice, what we have in higher education, how do you move students about between countries. I think as long as this isn't realised you won't get harmonisation between different national systems of higher education. The collaboration around a credit transfer system might be one way forward - how do you do credit transfers for plumbers, for technicians.
Barry Nyhan
I am looking at the European aspect in a sense of promoting certain values about social inclusion, for example creating a strong - if you call it - apprenticeship system. These things matter. The apprenticeship system is under threat because in many cases the employers don't want to pay for it any more, even in Germany. But there's a concern in many countries about the generation of skills for people who want to go to higher education, but at the level of the workforce. So the argument would go - in a European context, can countries learn from each other, not just copy each other, but can they learn to support and encourage each other to preserve these things like social cohesion as well as greater competitiveness. From an individual country perspective – each country is probably no longer strong enough to withstand competition from the US, China, India. The movement in society is largely towards the neo-liberal tradition, so if countries don't cooperate together to come up with something strong in response, then there are problems in safeguarding of these traditions which are behind the humanistic tradition of HRD - getting a better balance between your work and your life. These are practical issues, they are political issues, but they are not about coming up with a grand model. It's not one grand theory – with everything is the same, but European countries do share lots of values and the future has to be constructed. It's not a question of having a model - I mean the Swedish have had their Swedish model, which has been spoken about, and in many ways it's totally changed today. Social models can only be sustained by trade unions, by employers, working together. For example in the UK, the voice of trade unions to me has been so weakened that it's a great shame. I would think from any point of view that this is something that is weakening VET. HRD can become very instrumentalist, just in a neo-liberal kind of discourse. To me the European Union model is very often driven by a top-down ideology. This is different from the efforts of our countries to preserving their culture. This is about a multiplicity of practices, learning from each other, but also trying to identify certain values around working life. I'm a great fan of the Nordic countries in the sense of that they have got some kind of a balance between VET and HRD traditions. 
Set up: 30/06/2006
Update: 03/07/2006
Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO