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ECER 2005 Proceedings
Opening Plenary Colloquium
How European are Europe's work and learning policies?
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Plenary discussion

Martin Mulder
Thank you for the very interesting presentation. You showed there are various dimensions and different situations, and that vocational education of course in those systems plays various roles. But I would be very much interested in suggestions from you for the VET research professional. What do you think, from your perspective, would be interesting directions for VET researchers? What should they do, let's say the next five years? 

James Wickham
What should you do otherwise? I know what I'd like! I think VET research is perhaps further than other areas of social research in trying to get a broader understanding of knowledge and learning. I think that is the major intellectual contribution that has come out of this community, which goes much wider than that, and of course the appreciation of those forms of learning has immediate policy implications. For me, the research issue, which is also of course a policy issue, is about how dependent those forms of learning are on particular forms of organisational concepts and labour market concepts and other things as well. How concept bound are particular forms of learning? That's what I would really like to know about. And I would like to see some really good, careful empirical research, preferably with lots of numbers in it, about that. So that is the only way of really matching what is happening and what isn't happening.

Jeroen Onstenk
If you confront the European dream with the American mirage I think that we would all agree that we rather be in the European dream than in the American mirage. But at the same time I think we are all aware that in fact all these dimensions of the European dream have their own problems, making it for some a European nightmare, for example organised interest groups also are responsible for lack of flexibility and dynamism. And broad qualifications - it could be debated if they enhance positions on the labour market or in certain other respects make them weaker than for example skills. Non-utilitarian elements, citizenship, the work as citizen is interesting, but at the same time you see this twist that in a way you have to be a worker nowadays to be counted as a citizen. And leaning - in many cases there is also experience that learning is an obligation, so what do you think about this tension?

James Wickham
Of course you are right that there are tensions. I think, however, that there is an awful lot of room to manoeuvre, if you like, within this normative framework. For example, if you look at changes within the German apprenticeship - the system has become, as I understand it, a lot more flexible, the speed at which things can be done has increased quite dramatically, and so on and so forth. 
Of course we live and will always live in an imperfect world, but I think the that idea that vocational education involves organised input is something that is terribly important. We can then have a lot of often very heated debate about how that happens, and so we should, but I think that just casually abandoning into the market, which is the instantaneous response of people who raise those problems, is ridiculous. 

Anke Grotlüschen
After this very inspiring idea of a European dream, could you just simply explain the two dimensions of the social model you gave us - the dimensions between egoism and cohesion and inclusion and exclusion, because I'm not sure whether I properly understood that.

James Wickham
You think of societies as being equal or unequal. In other words, there are some societies where the income distribution is quite close together, where most people are in the middle, and a few rich people and a few poor people. Or, alternatively societies with some rich people and some poor people. That's one dimension, half-way. You could also think of societies where people trust each other, where people are concerned about people whom they don't know, where they take responsibility for people who they don't know, or you can image societies where the best thing to do to a stranger is to avoid contact with them and if necessary shoot them. Those are different dimensions, and my argument was that the European social model is relatively inclusive and relatively cohesive. 

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Source: Recording of VETNET session at ECER 2005 in Dublin (details see Proceedings)
Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO