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VETNET Research Forum
Setting the European VET research agenda
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Comment by Felix Rauner

First of all I want to mention an important experience. Two months before we finished the study I got a draft of the political conclusions of the Council, because they knew months before what we wanted to say, referring to the finding of the study. It's important to think about the relation between research and politics. I agree these studies always have impacts on politics, but on the other hand of course the European Commission and Council defined the question, referred to the benchmark criteria, and in so far it was a restricted type of research, especially if you remember what James Wickham told us yesterday. So we should do it, but of course we have the task to think about on independent research, and this is another story.
    Let me make three statements on the situation of TVET research in Europe, first of all on the Maastricht study. It was pointed out by Tom and Anneke - the good thing was that it is a kind of indicator that research was seen by the European Commission and Council as a dimension of innovation. In so far TVET research is catching up to other societal spheres, where of course always we have a combination of politics, practice and research. This is a kind of holistic circle in innovation in all societal fields . Look at the environmental policy, at medicine, at new technologies and so on. In so far the study was important because it is an indicator for accepting VET research as part of innovation.
    If you have a closer look at what we had to do, things are different, because the definition of things that we had to investigate refers to a given framework which is a little bit simple. The Commission was interested in the question: how fast are the member states matching the criteria of the Copenhagen process, what is the ranking - one, two, three, four - and so on, a bit simplified. Or what is the major interest - of course there is a policy of implicit harmonisation, and it might be a good idea to have a kind of implicit harmonisation. In so far I would distinguish between consulted-oriented research that we did with this study, and independent research along questions that were raised by James Wickham and others during this conference. These are two different things. 
    And in so far, Anneke, it is good that the state institutes are involved in this style of state institute. I worked in such an institute for seven years, I know quite well how it works, and some colleagues of the federal institute of Germany are here. It is also a kind of working bench for the ministry. In Germany we had a debate that in these institutes research should happen in the given framework of politics. I am happy that a lot of colleagues in these institutes are strong enough to do additional things of course, but we have to deal with the tension between free research and politics, and we have to accept that we won't get resources if we do critical politics. 
In so far we need the universities as a huge potential for research. Without backing up basic research of universities we won't have a developed research. And the universities are more or less outside of VET research. Look at the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh Framework research - nothing on VET research. It doesn't exist in the scientific communities. And if this continues VET research won't exist at a level where research communities and traditions should be established. 
    Let me make a remark on Ludger's opening remarks. He said we should use the infrastructure potentials of universities, which means we had to establish the professionalisation of VET experts and TVET teachers. If we establish Bachelor and Master programmes at university, the university needs of course infrastructure. This is a basis for implementing basic research and to get connected to these huge potentials of research. And of course don't forget analysing the framework programmes of the European Commission, as far as I understand the whole development. We had a little chance in the Fourth Framework. Here and there VET research was established, but later, in the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, it disappeared. This is a benchmark, and we might use this benchmark in the future to answer the question: are we established at the European level. 
    I am pessimistic in this relation. I visited a conference in Shanghai - the topic was vocational education and training. And let me add some remarks in addition to the picture that you have drawn on the vocational education and training in Europe, referring to the reports that we read every day. One colleague from Hong Kong, the boss of the administration of the VET institution in Hong Kong, said there is a world-wide stigmatisation of vocational education and training, no one wants to do it, the stupid and the risk groups are doing it. And he referred to the statistics of the OECD - up to eight or nine of the OECD countries had figures between sixty and seventy-eight per cent of higher education students of one cohort. So the programme 'college for all' is the programme world-wide, the discrimination of TVET is going on, and the stigmatisation is a huge problem world-wide. 
    The colleague from China said that the investment in vocational education in China was 11,5% six years ago, it decreased down to 6,5%. And it's an indicator for academic drift, they established more and more vocational education in universities. There is a strong tendency on vocationalism in university, so in these huge countries, similar to the United States, all training and education is moving into the universities below the Bachelor level. The establishment of sub-baccalaureate studies is going on. In so far I am not very happy that Europe established in the Bologna process the Anglo-Saxon model of Bachelor and Master. This was the first step I'm sure, looking at America and China, the next step will be to establish sub- baccalaureate levels to bring in vocational education and training into the university. Then you have an argument for the parents to say my child - one-child-family - my child is doing academic studies - an image problem! We should do some comparative studies about these events. I shouldn't make remarks on the future, my proposal was to give some arguments on the current situation.

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