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

Round table discussion at ECER (VETNET) in Geneva 13-16 September 2006

Proceedings of discussion


Johanna Lasonen
First Hans Werner's concept that he elaborated on VET. I think it's very important because it decides how you analyse the data. Hans Werner's way of defining is closer to Cedefop, how Manfred Tessaring has officially defined VET. There also is more about this training part, and when you said that in Germany it is more labour system than educational system, I would say in Finland, and also when I reflected the Swedish and Norwegian situation, it's more educational system than labour system. But it also considers very much labour market trends, and of course young people are educated for the jobs in Norway and in Finland; Sweden is a different story. 
    But what makes it more educational than labour market, this VET, this education part really provides another kind of learning environment for young people. Young people are sixteen when they select the vocational or general education track, so the vocational education track provides different option, different learning environment for secondary education students. The second aspect is that vocational education and training is very strongly integrated in the educational system, but the labour market has been emphasised in the reforms in the last ten years: tripartite negotiations and establishing and reforming curricula and also the new structure of VET. 
    Now, going to Krista's presentation, which was really a good analysis. I'm looking at one last point you made - the focus of VET research: what proportion of the research is focused on vocational pedagogy?

Krista Loogma
I would say that historically there were vocational topics (in labour market analyses for example). Now there is the need to widen the scope of researches and analyses taking into account new trends and challenges (contemporary vocational pedagogy for example). But the share of analyses and researches in learning and teaching in VET comparing with researches at system level is rather small. Magda Balika
One of the questions I just came up - what actually drives research on HRD or VET in our country (Romania)? For instance, in Romania the research was done more in a reacting way, so we needed specific research, because we formed projects in education in a specific area. So research doesn't have yet its own logic, so to day. And also, things are still not so coherent, if we look at research, it doesn't matter whether HRD or VET. 
    And the second question is: Even if research is there, how relevant is this for the policy makers? I am coming from an institute that is supposed to carry out research as a basis for decision of the ministry of education, and I am often very frustrated that our researches are not even read by ministries, or sometimes the researches are just requested in order to justify what decision they have already taken. So I think it's also very important to see what is the relevance of research in this context, because sometimes the developments are still parallel. Even at the European level, research and policy decisions are quite separate.  Ludger Deitmer
I just want to go back to the question of the mapping of VET and HRD research across Europe. I think what Hans Werner Franz has said is pretty right, but still there is a rather deep gap, also in Germany, between HRD and VET research. HRD is discussed much more on the side of the business management disciplines as well as at certain European conferences like EGOS (European Group for Organisational Studies). I go there, I am the only one on the border line between these two worlds, and the ITB is also partly doing similar things because of our enterprise oriented pilot projects, so we are much more in this enterprise field. On the other hand, there is quite a lot of VET research in Germany. There are 280 VET researchers, professors and lecturers who are organised in the German Association of Educational Research. This is where VET research is allocated. 
    So you can see, even from the organisation, there is a certain kind of split, therefore there isn't really an interaction. They have their own circles, congresses and dialogues in these different teams, and they hardly go across, as I understand that for Germany. We do the mapping for certain countries and look what's going on. That split is the reason why this is still apart in the German practice of research at faculties, and only occasionally some institutions like ours will mix that. Graham Attwell
The experience of Romania isn't sort of limited to Eastern European countries. I mean, the UK is no better and possibly worse in terms of research being linked to any kind of policy. I would say there is absolutely no linking of research and policy whatsoever.  Magdolna Benke
It was very interesting to find a lot of common things with Estonia and Romania. I mentioned in Tilburg (HRD Conference May 2006) that, in Hungary, there is a big difference in the prestige of VET and HRD research. VET has hardly got prestige at all, but HRD research has very strong traditions and high prestige. It was interesting to see a parallel situation in Romania and Estonia. The reasons of our problem are that there is no strong academic research tradition in VET. HRD has a very strong academic and university base, but traditionally VET hasn't got strong theoretical academic connection or background in the past. There are some new efforts to change this situation, but it is a very hard work. Hans Werner Franz
I think in general it is true that academic research has not very much to do with political decision making. Nevertheless, with projects and programmes, at least as far as they are politically motivated programmes, there is definitely some influence of research. At least part of the Commission's programmes and their internal justification are in the pursuit of political objectives, obviously. And the same applies at least to the German research programmes as far as they are politically motivated. There is some political interest of finding research results to make political decision. Whether they always are taken into consideration is a second question. 
    We have for example a programme on learning regions. It has definitely to do with questions like: Shall we foster cluster construction or shall we not? Is a cluster organisation good for economic policies or not? And I could give other examples where research programmes clearly have political interest in the background. 
    Just one remark on what Ludger said. I agree with him: talking about HRD in terms of research is very much separated in many cases from VET research. VET research belongs to the educational area, we talk about how to learn and how to make learning better, whereas in the HRD sector it is much about how to make company organisation better and what can HRD contribute to that. But nevertheless, over the last ten years, even more, 15 years, with the organisation of learning discussion, there is an increasing mix of both approaches, because organisation developers and many managers have learned that they will achieve organisational flexibility only over organisational learning and the organisation of learning processes within companies. Therefore the learning approaches of adult learning theories have come into fashion, so to speak, very much nowadays. So there is a step from HRD to VET also in the research area, and this is the reason why we should continue developing the interlinking elements of both. Ludger Deitmer
But to add to this, you are absolutely right what you said that there is learning to be discussed in HRD, but there is very little VET research that is moving into HRD - these people are coming from somewhere else. Hans Werner Franz
That's true! M'Hamed Dif
I think there is a very important link between research in HRD and VET research, which emerged during the last decade. As I found in my projects, this link to VET is considered as an instrument for the development of human resources. And we cannot talk about this tendency if we don't talk about learning organisations. What are the instruments? The means for that is VET. So the research is now moving, in a forward-looking approach, to look at the two together. The tendency now is moving towards this complementarity and overlapping. This has been confirmed by European projects.  Barry Nyhan
What I find interesting is that there are discrepancies between what is happening at the national level of research and what is happening at conferences like this and at HRD conferences. They don't fit these stereotypes. In the countries you find research focusing on labour market issues or qualifications frameworks. Speaking for Ireland, they are putting money into this, but as far as I know very few institutions are putting money into pedagogical research or learning organisations research, trying to look at the social construction of knowledge. 
    Take the European Commission, the DGEAC (General Directorate-General for Education and Culture). It used to be part of the DG dealing with social affairs, looking at social change in society, employment, equality for women, and education. It has now become an educational directorate, liaising with educational ministers, so it's losing its link in many ways with wider social issues. 
    There are lots of different ways of looking at VET and HRD research in practice. Some institutions like ITB Bremen never have a problem talking about HRD research, but there are other institutions which say that HRD research is only for pin-striped suited people within business, whereas VET is about looking after the welfare of society and workers. There are lots of stereotypes - "Cedefop - you are dealing with technical training for workers, metal worker apprentices!" Well, I say, we are, but we are dealing with much more than that. You know, there are strong biases and misunderstandings. Maybe researchers like ourselves are the focal people who participate in different forums, sharing experiences with researchers from other countries, trying to break down these stereotypes.  Krista Loogma
Two remarks about the logic of the VET research programme. I think the national VET research programme should be really connected with the political information and strategy for development of VET; the strategy should be connected with research. 
Second, on Magdolna's suggestion about the prestige of VET and HRD research and academic traditions. I think that there are also historical reasons: VET used to be always something very practical, and theories are not connected with this research; HRD research has been better equipped theoretically, because it is based on management theories and organisational theories. These histories might be very different in other countries. M'Hamed Dif
I would just like to add to what was observed by other colleagues. I think this background you could find on institutional level, this is linked to the traditions of two spheres: the production or the training and the educational systems. As you find in France, the education system is completely separate from the production sphere. And behind economics, the economies are more concentrated on human resource progress. But now the tendency is changing, in the last ten, 15 years. When we now talk about learning organisations we have to look at HRD in connection with the basis of VET. Ludger Deitmer
I think we even have to go to the policy to overcome the gap between VET and HRD: the social question on the one side and the economic question on the other side. Even in the policy fields - in the economic, industrial, social and educational policy - there has to take place some kind of integration, of coordination, which is not existing. The gaps between ministries can be very strong, they are different worlds, there is no connection. This is needed, definitely on the regional level, when we talk of a regional entity which is taking care of the local VET system. It's not only a question of the social ministries in that case, it is also a question of the economic or the industrial strategies in that region. That's a huge idea which has to be looked at in the future, to create VET coordination of these different policy fields and also more integration between HRD and VET. Johanna Lasonen
Magda mentioned this nature of research, how reactive this is, and maybe quite in many countries research is evaluated. Hans Werner and Ludger referred to this co-acting nature. Of course, if there is basic research in VET, good basic research is also proactive. The question is now: who is reviewing, who is anticipating the future needs of labour markets? These 250 institutions, which were investigated, may also include the different national agencies working under ministries of labour or ministries of education. They seem to be in charge of doing this proactive type of studies, anticipating the needs of labour markets. Barry Nyhan
Just as a final reflection on our discussion on HRD and VET research. I think the central thing is the content, the purpose of the research and the projects that are going on. That's much more important than the labelling. Sabine mentioned the Researching Work and Learning conference which took place in Sydney in December 2005. It had another kind of culture round it, which is different to VET and HRD conferences. It seems to cross both, and also interestingly enough, it had a very left-wing critical edge to it. There was a critique of policies of the Australian government and the American government. It has been an interesting experience participating in three kinds of conferences (ECER, HRD and Work and Learning) where there are distinct cultures - there is no question about that. We should continue to explore these differences, and keep an open dialogue going. Proceedings of discussion
Set up: 13/11/2006
Update: 13/11/2006
Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO