ECER 2005 Proceedings
Round table
European and national research networks: How to stimulate community development?
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Plenary discussion

Graham Attwell
It's no secret that we find it difficult to find reliable partners in many of the countries in Eastern Europe, this should be said. Most of us has got two or three partners who we rely on, but it's very difficult to ask each other: you've got any good Eastern European partners work ? What are the big problems - and this links up to exactly what Magda said: the absolute failure of the intervention so far by the EU to build research infrastructure. Now, it's very simple on measures that could be taken. The absolute disgrace of the way the EU distributes day rates between different countries. So they might have a partner who is in the Czech Republic or something like that, paying 60 Euros a day, but a partner in Germany paying four hundred Euros a day.   Measures could be used to start building research infrastructure by paying people properly in East European states. And it's not being done, and that's a policy decision being made. 
    And that leads to a second point I want to make. Ludger very rightly I think showed us our old reliance on EU and EU projects for developing European research. In fact we are very much prone to following what the EU does, complaining about it all the time of course, but we have to follow it, because we are driven by policies over which we have very little control. Now I think there are two answers to that. One is that in the VET community, and Felix raised this questions this morning, we have really failed to lobby I suppose and put our opinions forward of where we think policy should be going being made. 
    And the second answer is that I think we failed to build a European research infrastructure between research institutes, especially for the many research projects which are done with European funding, either with national funding or postgraduate research. We should be building a dense network of participation between postgraduate research projects, which is not dependent on European funding, and which would allow us to build a proper infrastructure for research in Europe.

Pekka Kämäräinen
I would focus on the two Bulgarian contributions, given the fact that in the year 2003 I was involved in the peer review of Bulgarian continuing vocational education and training and employment training and employment policies. I thank Vanya for her and her colleagues’ efforts when they were supporting that exercise. On the basis of the observations that I made at that time and now listening to your two contributions I would link to the issue raised by Graham. In the light of what has just been mentioned it is easier to understand , why researchers find it difficult to get counterparts from countries with limited numbers of active researchers. One of the reasons is - as Vanya has indicated in her presentation: very much effort is invested in systemic or programme-related capacity building, creating new institutions and establishing new frameworks etc. These measures absorb to a great deal the capacities that are available. This may lead to overly institutionalised and somewhat compartmentalised measures ‘to catch up with the alleged standards of the EU. Therefore the kind of free space and free energy which we would assume to research activities (for monitoring, supporting and accompanying of innovations) is not that much available in the accession countries. 
    Then, the brief presentation of Elmira Bancheva merits special attention. To me, the short history of the Bulgarian Human Resource Management Association provides an interesting example of building up a genuine professional community out of something that might have been considered as modest and marginal in the European big picture. The association has chosen the road of mutual certification and mutual recognition based on agreed standards. By going through this period the association has reached a new level of generally acknowledged professionality that is manifested in the current modes of operation and in the ability of the association to support the creation of respective discipline-based infrastructures in the New Bulgarian University. To me this case has been very inspiring and we can give some thoughts how to support similar consolidation of scientific and professional expertise in the field of VET. During the peer review visits we could not see much development to this direction and surely the patterns of community-building would be different. Yet, the case of the Bulgarian Human Resource Management Association is an interesting case of a learning community which could be studied more closely if one wants to learn lessons from a transformation of a relatively weak professional community (facing the everyday life challenges of a transitional society) to a future-oriented learning community that contributes actively to the renewal of scientific and professional expertise..

Ludger Deitmer
I think beside that point Graham raised on the development of the network infrastructure, which is a good point, I think we also should try to influence the research agenda on the European level more intensively. It would be, I don't know - I think so, a working group on setting up the European VET research agenda would be a necessity to think about that in the near future, how the ground can be placed for fundamental questions. Because, as I said again, research needs some kind of freedom, research can't be born into three months let's say opinion reports, it needs a stronger breath, otherwise it can't grow. And therefore I think it needs also long-term thinking, because you can't answer these things in one year. But you need a long-term outlook into the future, what should be relevant, and I think topics, agendas for VET research in Europe. Therefore I think it's a good point Graham made and I would like just to add that point to his agenda. 

Sigurd Johannson
I agree we need an agenda for VET research. I have participated as a [Swedish] consultant in a project in Turkey for an EU funded project with 70 Million Euro, which is an enormous sum of money. I contacted people at six universities in Sweden who are all working with vocational education and training: OK we can have a network here;I met some Englishmen from Bolton, and we can set this up. So we had a meeting with our programme office in Stockholm, and after one hour information from their side we looked at each other, shook our heads and said sorry, we can't put on all this effort for something we don't know if it gives any outcome. So it all ended up in a teacher educated exchange project which will take place, but all this could be so much more but for the bureaucracy. Maybe we feel the bureaucracy too much, I don't know, but I would say if you look for the answer why are there so few EU projects we might find the answer perhaps.

Barry Nyhan
There is a problem regarding EU programmes for the new member states and the accession countries: one often has to fit in with the template of the formulaire rather than the reality of your own analysis. Very often people are asked to do the analysis too quickly, because the analysis of the needs of the country takes a lot of time. If you can do a good analysis, that's more important than rushing into research on this topic or that topic. 

Magdolna Benke
Maybe you mentioned, but it wasn't clear to me, what you consider the serious problem in Bulgaria related to research in VET and HRD. It was clear from the Romanian presentation, but it is not clear to me from your side. 

Vanya Tividosheva 
I would like to refer to Pekka because actually somehow his comments answer your question. Well, we've got institutional establishments, but they are not really research institutions. Bulgarian academic science has very good capacity for research contribution in this area. Also different universities, particular technical universities, in Bulgaria could do some important developments. But all these things are separated and there is not a real network between all these researchers. It is not centralised, it is not decentralised, it is just separated somewhere. Maybe we need to address for future priority the establishment of a network - it could be web-based or a virtual community - for exchange of all these ideas. Because all Bulgarian universities are of course scientific organisations and have websites, and these research reports or conferences are available as announcement or download at these websites. But somewhere it's not easy to find all this information structured and easy to access, so maybe it's a good idea for another project or national programme in this respect.

Liliana Voicu
The problem in Romania is a little bit what all colleagues said, and I'm sure this is relevant for Bulgaria as well. In this effort to integrate in the European Union a lot of institutional establishments were done, a lot of structures were developed, a lot of programmes and projects were developed, most of the times they work in European frameworks. So this is how some capacities, some work, some research was done. Until now there is no inner demand for research, because if the interest is to develop policies we have wise people that know how to develop them, and especially they have wise indications from Brussels to do it. So there is not so much demand for research, even if people recognise there is a need. Fortunately this is going better, sometimes also on European pressure, because all this, especially the PHARE project, most of the times have research component. But we need more, and this must be done at national level. I think this is also a thing to be done by researchers themselves or networks, organisation of national events - this should come from research, not from political entities, so maybe it is to work also at this level as well.

Barry Nyhan
There is double a way of ensuring that research takes place, there is a kind of top-down push from government, and there is the push from the European Union. But often these are not aligned as we heard this morning at the session that took place just before this one. But the topics being studied are often not the important topics, they are more kind of political expedient topics, that people often don't identify with. And as Martin Mulder said, a lot of the discussions about the European qualifications framework and all of these new initiatives are making so many demands for information. They are overwhelming people, they are often not helping people to go where they want to go. 
    So it's up to researchers themselves and institutions and individuals and organisations like VETNET. But VETNET is a bottom-up network. There is no big money for VETNET. Everybody who comes to the VETNET conference pays their own way. The people who come to VETNET might be some of the same people who go to the EU meetings in Cedefop, but probably the vast majority are not, so there is a kind of community building going on. I think in a small way we contributed to this in this particular seminar, in this conference, and we can try and build on it and pick up the issues here, maybe with VETNET and Cedefop in terms of Cedra. ERO could try and support this process, (we have both Sabine here and Petr,) so we could keep this debate moving on topics and also frameworks for networks. 
    So I would like to close by thanking very much Ludger for his opening, our colleagues Elmira and Vanya from Bulgaria, and Liliana and Magda from Romania, Petr from Cedefop, and for all the work that Sabine has been doing for us over the years. All of the reports that you did from Bulgaria and Romania are very valuable. We have a template, another template from Cedefop, we hope it's not too complex this time - so all this material should be available on the web in the coming months. We are trying to provide more facilities for improving the networking, for improving your own participation in the European Union, which you are going to join in - is it 2007? It is still under discussion - Anyway. Thank you all for your participation in this session.

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