My journey with the VETNET network – Insights into the evolution of European vocational education and training research: The years of stabilisation of the VETNET community 2001 – 2006 (Part 3)

by Pekka Kämäräinen

In the third section I provide insights into years of stabilisation (including the two gap years and some interim developments) from 2001 to 2006.

Gap years with ECER 2001 (Lille) and ECER 2002 (Lisbon)

Once again, due to intervening factors, I had to stay away from ECER 2001 in Lille and ECER 2002 in Lisbon. My temporary contract as a project manager in Cedefop had come to an end. I was resettling in Finland whilst Cedefop took a new course in its engagement with researchers and their communities.

In the meantime the VETNET board led by Toni Griffiths had developed its own style of working – including interim meetings of the Board between ECER conferences and engaging all board members in the peer review of proposals. Also, during this period the first attempt was made to set up a VETNET-affiliated journal for VET research. Furthermore, in ECER 2002 VETNET hosted a visit of a representative of European Commission, DG Research who informed the community on the preconditions for participating in the new 6th Framework Programme for Research (FP6) of the European Union. After ECER 2012 there was also a discussion, whether the VETNET network should change its name – with less emphasis on VET and more emphasis on career development and learning at work. At the end of an open debate the board agreed to keep the name and anchoring to the field of VET.

ECER 2003 in Hamburg: Looking for new forms of European cooperation

In ECER 2003 in Hamburg I made a comeback to ECER, now without my Cedefop functions (nor any new organisational affiliation) and trying to position myself anew in the community. At that time the board of Toni Griffiths was coming to an end with its work and the planning for major projects for the FP6 was heading to its final phase. In this context the VETNET Opening colloquium was organised as a panel to discuss challenges for European VET research. In his contribution the Commission representative outlined the frameworks for FP6, Alan Brown explored the possibilities to develop cooperation across national educational research programmes, Felix Rauner discussed conceptual and societal challenges for VET research, whilst I discussed the tensions between cohesion (European approaches) vs. particularisation (retreat to national perspectives) in VET research.

In the sessions could witness a slight transition from themes that focused on VET policies, qualifications and curricular issues towards non-formal learning, working life and project evaluation as well as eLearning. A special highlight was the study on the role of social partners in EU member states and Central/East European countries by Magdolna Benke. Whilst this all was anchored in VET, there was a search for new ‘niche areas’ and interfaces with neighbouring research areas. In this context Toni Griffiths ended her period as the Convenor and a new VETNET Board was elected with Ludger Deitmer (the VETNET program chair of the year) as the new Convenor.

ECER 2004 in Crete: Debates on VET-PISA, eLearning and learning at work

The ECER 2004 was organised at the Rhethymnon campus of the University of Crete (instead of an initially chosen venue). This time I participated as a visiting researcher at the Vocational Teacher Education College of Jyväskylä Polytechnic.

In the light of the public debates on OECD PISA-studies the VETNET board had decided to dedicate the VETNET Opening colloquium for the question whether the field of VET should have a PISA of its own. The panelists, Nikitas Patiniotis, Rainer Bremer and Jenny Hughes took somewhat different perspectives. They all distanced themselves from the approach with which the PISA studies have been carried out and of the apparatus that has been created. However, they didn’t have a common conclusion on possible alternative approach and its eventual benefits.

In the sessions I could observe a strong presence of evaluation research (project evaluation, evaluation of eLearning), revisiting studies on work process knowledge and organisational learning as well as themes in the border zone between continuing training and informal learning. At the end of the program there was a special session on the role of action research in the field of VET.

In the VETNET General Assembly we could note a good level opf participation in the conference. As a major initiative we discussed the new proposal to set up a VET-related journal in collaboration with a publishing house (that had sent a representative to Crete). The VETNET board had set a working group that presented an interim report which was well received by the participants.

Interim developments

After the conference the VETNET network was involved as a co-organiser (with the Unesco-Unevoc centre) in a special workshop on VET research and vocational teacher education in October 2004 in Hamburg. This workshop served as a preparatory event for a global Unesco international meeting on TVET teacher education in Hangzhou, China. As the results of the Hangzhou meeting were reported to the VETNET board there was some discussion, how to arrange the cooperation of the network with such affiliated initiatives or network. At the end of the day the working consensus of Frankfurt 1997 was restated.

ECER 2005 in Dublin: Debates on the European dream for training and learning

In ECER 2005 I participated as a new staff member of ITB who had recently started working in Bremen. I had also joined the ITB team to support VETNET activities.

The VETNET Opening colloquium was dedicated to the keynote speech of James Wickham and his question “How European are Europe’s Work and Learning Policies?” In this context he outlined the global challenges to what he called “The European Social Model” and discussed the tensions between “the American mirage” and “the European dream”.

Another joint VETNET event was dedicated to the transnational study for the Maastricht meeting of Educational ministers in 2004 “Attainment of Lisbon goals: The contribution of VET“. The consortium members Tom Leney and Anneke Westerhuis emphasised the study as an opportunity for European research community to specify the criteria for policy analysis. At the same time they drew attention to the challenges to base policy evaluation on appropriate data. As a discussant Felix Rauner drew attention to the discrepancy between leading policy issues and more VET-specific challenges that seem to be left into margins in the current policy processes.

In the sessions I was involved in round tables and workshops that discussed VET researchers’ contribution to regional development initiatives and the role of web tools, research forums and virtual communities in such initiatives. Whilst the contributions were interesting, it appeared to me that we were experiencing a kind of rupture period between the working issues and the web technologies available.

The VETNET community had already launched a new website at the advent of ECER 2004. Before the ECER 2005 the site was equipped with a VETNET conference blog, which I started to use for real-time reporting.

ECER 2006 in Geneve: In the margins of European educational cooperation

ECER 2006 was organised in Geneve, Switzerland. For the VETNET community this was a problematic choice because a considerable number of VET researchers was participating on the basis of EU-funding (for which a conference in a non-member state was not eligible). After several positive discussions with Commission officials and appeals on behalf of EERA president the Commission position remained strict. Luckily enough the VETNET program chair Barbara Stalder managed to negotiate a funding arrangement from Swiss funds to support cooperation with EU programmes.

The VETNET Opening colloquium was dedicated to the keynote of Rolf Dubs who analysed the developments in Swiss VET systems in the light of the neighbouring VET cultures of Germany, Austria and France. He emphasised the interfaces and the developments towards a ‘trial system’. The other joint event – the VETNET Forum – analysed the preparation of the European Qualification Framework (EQF) in a policy process that was steered by the European Commission. Jörg Markowitsch provided a closer look at the most recent phase of the preparatory process. Georg Spöttl drew attention to different – and often mutually contradicting expectations that have been raised during the preparation of the current draft.

In the sessions (some of them based on European projects) I could observe an emphasis on working life issues, such as Development of knowledge management tools for SMEs (KMplus), Workplace learning partnerships (WLP), Development of national training markets (CVTS2-rev), Transition from R&D to RED (individual paper) and Designing learning culture for innovation in companies (individual paper).

Concerning the VETNET community development, the General Assembly re-elected Ludger Deitmer as the Convenor and elected a new board. Altogether, we could observe a good progress (although we had to note that the journal initiative was brought further by a new consortium without VETNET involvement).

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