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ECER 2005 Proceedings
Opening Plenary Colloquium
How European are Europe's work and learning policies?
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Comment by Gerald Heidegger

I will refer more to the abstract I was sent of your paper. But I will have some comments on what you have said in addition. The German case played a major role in the abstract, a greater role than was in your talk here. Now I am German, as you might hear, and therefore I will try to present more or less a German view, although of course it's my view. I think James Wickham's account and analysis are in fact very appropriate from a German perspective, especially that James Wickham stressed the features of the system on the macro level, not so much teaching and learning on the micro level, that he stressed the relation of the VET system and the social model, and I think you also mentioned the typologies of welfare models, especially I think Esping-Andersen. 
    Now, one should keep in mind in this connection that the duality of the so-called dual system is not only about theory and practice, it is also about - I would like to make that a little clearer - a duality between state and social partners or social parties, and also a duality of course between the social partners or parties, the organised employers, that is very important I think, and the organised labour, the trade unions. Without that the system could not survive. In fact I think that not with respect to society, but with respect to the vocational education and training system the European dream - it sounds a little nationalistic! - rather resembles the just now existing German model of VET.
    To give some points of discussion: Your five, at least four points - the last point is about the exchange, the first point about the role of organised interest groups - is very strong in Germany. The important relatively broad qualifications is, as Jeroen said, maybe a problem, but it is implemented in Germany. The acceptance of non-utilitarian education elements is the task of the vocational schools, there are heavy improvements necessary, but on the general level it is a duty of the vocational schools. And participation and learning at work as a right, here certainly are major improvements necessary coming from the Scandinavian model. But apart from that I think that most of it is actually fulfilled. 
    You wrote in your abstract that the key institutional structures are threatened by the onslaught of shareholder value imperialism - I would think it is right. Now it has already been questioned, by Jeroen especially, more state intervention by the national state or by the European Union. In your abstract you also mentioned the problem of relatively high unemployment. I would like to state that this is not due to low competitiveness of the German industry, because as it is sometimes said, Germany is the export world champion for most of the last 20 years, therefore it cannot be due to the VET system. Now some non-neoliberal economists say this high unemployment is due to weak internal demand. Germans are also said to be nearly savings world champions. There is no debt society, like for instance in the US. Now that is a cultural phenomenon which doesn't have anything to do I think with the VET system. 
    You also mentioned the problem of the highly streamed secondary school system, you are right that this is certainly connected to the dual system. The streaming in the secondary school system is mostly according to the social background of the parents, and this of course is not compatible with the European model, but I don't have a solution. Here is actually one of those tensions you talked about. 
    In addition this dual system means that you have to decide about a special occupation while starting an apprenticeship at the age of 16/ 17 which of course is in tension to the open-mindedness which should be possible for people in the life span of adolescence. 
Now back to the problems in relation to the UK system of skill polarisation. Indeed, as a kind of complement to the dual system there is a low level of university participation. The question is whether this is really acceptable for the future of the so-called knowledge based economy, but on the other hand one has to questions if this knowledge based economy is really a big sector. Because most of the economy is not knowledge based, and sometimes it is also called a knowledge society which I think is complete rubbish. Still the Bologna process aims at higher university participation, and Germany has already had an effect in this respect. The participation is strongly rising now, which could mean that in fact it would knock away the tip of the pyramid of occupations of the dual system. That would mean a lower esteem of the VET system, that would mean the threat of skill polarisation, and this process would course be against the European social model. 
    Now just a last comment. I would like to agree with the question of the lady in the background. I couldn't completely agree that there is such a big difference between these dimensions trust and distrust and exclusion and inclusion, because I think the distrust in countries like the US is - the reason for that is actually the huge gap of incomes between rich and poor, and then the poor don't see any future and therefore they start to shoot. 

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