My journey with the VETNET network – Insights into the evolution of European vocational education and training research: The founding and grounding years 1997 – 2000 (Part 2)

by Pekka Kämäräinen

In the second section I give an account of the years of founding and grounding of the VETNET network as the umbrella network in European VET research.

ECER 1997 in Frankfurt am Main: VETNET in action – working consensus on the nature of VET research

Whilst the official launch of VETNET took place during ECER 1996 in Sevilla, a VETNET conference strand became reality in ECER 1997 in Frankfurt. At this time VET-related research was clearly organised in one space and in several parallel sessions next to each other. Also, several EU-funded projects came together to exchange knowledge on their common themes (e.g. the projects on post-16 education strategies and dually oriented qualifications).

One of the highlights was the symposium on “Core structures of vocational education and training (VET) research”. In the discussions we took note that we have three main approaches to research in the field of VET:

  1. Discipline-based approaches to research on VET (Forschung über Berufsbildung) that perceive VET as a special area of interest;
  2. Interdisciplinary VET research (Berufsbildungsforschung) that crosses the boundaries of traditional disciplines and promotes integrative know-how on VET development (Berufsbildungsentwicklung);
  3. Transdisciplinary research in pedagogics of VET (Berufspädagogik) that promotes integrative research to support (domain-specific and transversal) pedagocic development of VET.

The common conclusion – the VETNET working consensus of Frankfurt 1997 – was that all these approaches complement each other and that we need to give space for all of them in the future VETNET conference programs.

In ECER 1997 the VETNET assembly was already taking the role of organising the network. The fact that the initially appointed board had not become active was noted. Therefore, an acting executive board consisting of co-opted members was set up. The members brought together experience from European projects and other European networks (Johanna Lasonen, Sabine Manning, David Raffe) as well as from AERA (Curtis Finch, Johanna Lasonen). In this way the network got founded and grounded to become the umbrella network of European VET researchers.

ECER 1998 in Ljubljana: Networking the networks within VETNET

In ECER 1998 in Ljubljana the VETNET strand had already got stabilised and the community was able to initiate new kinds of sessions. The VETNET strand was opened by a colloquium on Transnationality in VET research (involving multiple perspectives on transnational exhanges, comparisons and knowledge enrichment). Also, the program included a session for dialogue between projects in different EU programs (Europrof project meets Work Process Knowledge network) and a special session Meeting point for networks in VET research. Such experiences strengthened the position of ECER and VETNET as central platforms for European VET research.

ECER 1999 in Lahti: VETNET program chair in action

Whilst the VETNET strand in the two previous conferences had been shaped by the EERA secretariat, the VETNET network had agreed to appoint a ‘local’ VETNET program chair for the ECER 1999 to organised in Lahti, Finland. Johanna Lasonen took this task as the pioneer in this role. In the conference we had then a VETNET opening colloquium with invited speakers (Yrjö Engeström, Michael Young) and a special guest (Director of VET department, Armoguum Parsuramen from Unesco). In addition there were ‘study visits’ to vocational schools and companies to discuss VET in practice and there was a VETNET reception sponsored by Lahti Polytechnic.

Moreover, this time the VETNET program was organised in collaboration with the Academy of HRD, European chapter and the proceedings of the program (full papers) were made available already by the conference. From the content point of view the program included new features, such as sessions for revisiting and re-examining the results of completed European projects or for presenting new web resources for promoting knowledge development across such projects (the Cedefop Research Arena initiative). Finally, the General Assembly of VETNET network agreed on a procedure to elect a new VETNET board in the next conference.

ECER 2000 in Edinburgh: New VETNET board elected

In ECER 2000 in Edinburgh the VETNET program continued on a similar track as the previous ones. This time some of the sessions took up the discussions in previous ones and continued the debates. In this way the symposium on Key qualifications/ Key competences provided an opening that was picked up in some later sessions (e.g. on transitions and re-entry to working life as well as on curriculum development in polytechnics). Also, there was an update on the work with some key themes of the Cedefop Research Arena (the shaping of new interactive web resources).

From the perspective of the community development the highlight was the election of the new VETNET board. Already in Lahti we had come to the conclusion that the co-opted executive board that had worked since ECER 1997 was coming to the end of its term. Also, Martin Mulder who had served as the founding convenor had agreed to step down. In Edinburgh we elected Toni Griffiths from University College London (the coordinator of the EU FP4-funded project “Work experience as an educational challenge for the 21st century”) as the new convenor and a new board to support the work in the next phase.

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