In contrast to general education, vocational education and training (VET) is characterised worldwide by a high degree of complexity. VET is multidimensional and, sometimes, has diffuse structures. VET is a descriptor which includes such as aspects as pre-vocational education, school-based VET, apprenticeship systems, technical education, higher VET, work-based learning, further education and lifelong learning. These aspects are often unclearly differentiated. In addition, there is the fact that in many countries a large number of different actors and structural elements are involved in the VET system. It should also be borne in mind that in many countries non-formal or informal VET activities dominate. This fact also explains the title of the book “Comparative vocational education research. Enduring challenges and new ways forward”. This refers back to the complexity of VET and the resulting lack of understanding or confusion among (foreign) viewers or domestic ‘non-experts’.
Structure of the book
In order to provide the reader with a systematic overview of the various contributions in this book, the following structure was developed and the corresponding contributions assigned to individual parts. The editors are aware that there are overlapping areas and that not all contributions can be assigned to a single part. To provide an overall theoretical context for the book, Karen Evans introduces the topic of international comparison in VET and impressively demonstrates the need for comparative VET research. This is followed in Part I: International comparative VET theories and methodologies, by contributions that primarily represent a theoretical focus or place particular emphasis on the methodological side of the comparison. Part II: Research results on international comparative VET, presents individual comparative studies. In all of these contributions, particular emphasis is placed on the disclosure of the comparative objectives and the comparison methods used. In contrast to many published comparative studies, a stringent presentation of the conceptualisation, the development of the comparison methods, the findings and their interpretation is achieved. In this part, the overarching question as to whether globally developed comparative indicators can be used fruitfully in individual countries is addressed. In Part III: Lessons learnt from comparative VET research in practice, the focus of the contributions is more on a reflective level of comparative research. Thus, the potential and limitations of comparative VET are explored using examples, as well as the self-reflection of the roles and interactions of researchers.
Origins of the book
The origins of this book lie in the third international conference of the German Research Center for Comparative Vocational Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) held in autumn 2018 at the University of Cologne. The title of the conference was “Lost in VET? Status Quo and Perspectives in the Research of Comparative VET Theories, Methods and Results”. The book also marks the 10th year anniversary of the G.R.E.A.T., which was founded in October 2009.
Extract from the preface of the book, by Prof. Dr. Matthias Pilz & Dr. Junmin Li, University of Cologne, Germany