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

Pekka Kämäräinen
What worries me here with all the discussion is that there is a risk that we either focus on some mega trends that swallow the specificity of vocational education and training, or we start picking on the peculiarities of national models and to see to what extent they are sustainable or doomed to failure. And this puts the picture fragmented. I think we have to acknowledge that the ghost is hanging over this debate, the ghost of the pursuit towards common currency in education and training policies. This issue was raised already by David Raffe, in his first keynote speech 1992, but now in the post-Lisbon era we have been going through, and thinking of Massimo's emphasis on the societal (or to be more precise: configurational) effect of vocational education and training, this will have to be reconsidered if there is a dominant pursuit towards a European “common currency” in VET. 
    Concerning the cultural peculiarities that have been raised from the European point of view we have to acknowledge whether vocational particularism (ie. a philosophy of “just-to-the-needs training”) or vocational professionalism (ie. a philosophy of professional continuity) becomes the common denominator of the “common currency” discussion. And that discussion has not really taken off at the moment. 
    Finally, I think we should more be worried (instead of the American mirage) more of the EU mirage, namely the illusion of manageability of cultural diversity via common frameworks (“packaging”) agreed on intergovernmental level. I think this tendency is something that needs to be considered carefully in the European context when we try to understand whether the current cultural diversity in VET is an obstacle for development or a transitional phase towards a rich but more coherent cultural pattern variance.

Alan Brown
I thought Massimo's idea of bringing in human resources management dimension as well as vocational education and training was actually quite important, because I also thought it was interesting how he put the German model together with aspects of the UK model, even if the aspects of the UK model which were being emphasised weren't originally UK in origin. I think that does lead to the idea that you could have a focus on high involvement and high quality, or a focus on continuous improvement and quality management. If you can do that you can actually see how the best practice in Italy, Germany, Scandinavia and the UK actually is starting to fit to those models. But following on from Pekka you don't have to get there via a single means. And just to switch it to a UK context for a moment, it does mean that we are very weak on employee involvement, and that's an area in the UK context you'd say you want to strengthen. Similarly you could look at different aspects in different countries and say which aspects of those two dimensions you want to deal with. And I think those two dimensions are the one which are more manageable to deal with, because they are within our area of VET and HRD, rather than the much broader societal trends which don't give us a lead to action, whereas I think if we focus on these two dimensions that would give us a lead as to what we want to do within that frame.

Lesley Farrell
What I'm struggling with from my perspective is how all this fits in with - certainly with the trends in the States with outsourcing and offshoring, and the education of an outsourced and offshored workforce. Contingent workforces that don't sit easily within national boundaries - don't seem to fit easily within this model. So I guess, that's my question and comment.

Barry Nyhan
I think the question of Pekka Kämäräinen is about a common currency - to what extent can we get a kind of a common currency in the European framework. Alan Brown’s was following this, stressing the diversity of systems and allowing the best models to a certain extent exist side by side. That last question about the outsourcing and the contingent workforce is about supra-national companies and maybe there are a lot of these companies cutting across the cultures of America, Europe, and Australia. We know about this supra-national workforce also. So who is to take up one of those questions?

James Wickham
Yes, I said it was simplistic, and of course Massimo has put his finger on the way in which it is simplistic. That is to say that if you can construct these models, you present an image of a world in which people are simply the agents of structures, if you like, people just do what the frameworks tell them to do. However, two points - Point number one is that if you look - I suspect that I would stress that this is not my main research area - if you look at what people who are actually practising in this area do, I suspect there is a lot of bottom-up innovation, people learning from each other, cosmopolitanism that Massimo mentioned. There is no doubt about that. Just as in other contexts, European citizens intriguingly noted what other people do in other countries, and say why can't we do it too. You will have discovered Dublin's wonderful non-functioning public transport system already. Dublin's citizens frequently say well why can't we have it like it is in Strasbourg or somewhere. People look around, people ask questions, and people put pressure on governments. And of course we all can wheel out the pressures on existing national structures. 
    However, what I would want to put on to the agenda is almost the other way round. I think that it is only too easy to notice the pressures on national structures. I think we need to be aware of the social agents, who are quite deliberately in some cases expanding the market. And in some cases this is a good idea, and in some cases this is a bad idea, but stop worshipping it under the guise of individual agents. 

Gerald Heidegger
I would like to also make a statement to Massimo's statement. I actually doubt if action is stronger than structure. I think the cultural embeddedness of especially the educational systems and particularly the VET systems is so strong that according to my experience the actors act according to the structural conditions, and I cannot see very much change over the last thirty years, say, between UK and Germany. I don't have the impression that they have learned very much from each other, the so-called mutual learning within the European Union. They just go straight ahead according to their structural conditions because this is so strongly culturally embedded. And therefore I think there will not be a common currency. I think that the only thing we should aim at, but this is still very important, to actually improve the mutual learning, which as I say was up to now at a very low level, but I think we should not aim at a common currency.
    Maybe one remark to the outsourcing. I think that, at least for a country like Germany, this is heavily overestimated. Actually, the huge majority of the workforce is not outsourced and a country like Germany is in this respect not a globalised country. The big companies have outlets in different countries, of course, and there is much export. But - I think this might be a language question - I cannot experience any globalisation of the German workforce. 

Massimo Tomassini
I would like to respond to Pekka. I agree that there is a danger of the kind he mentioned. In my opinion very much attention has been devoted in the last years (and decades) to comparative research about general (institutional) differences in national VET systems, while very few resources have been devoted to understand the real field practices. We, European researcher, should try to reverse this trend. We must of course consider the patterns of national systems and the conditionings stemming from them, but we also have to recognise the important steps forward made by VET actors in all Countries in terms of learning and innovation, even despite such national patterns and conditionings. New exigencies and opportunities push towards increasing degrees of homogeneisation of behaviours in this field. Co-operation within European programmes helps in this direction (there are significant developments due to mutual learning, for instance as far as best practices are concerned) but external conditions at the economic, technological, and regulatory levels have much more influence as homogeneisation factors on VET practices. 

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