Archive for the ‘I-Europe’ Category

Revisiting I-Europe – Part 2: Back to present date

November 28th, 2007 by Pekka Kamarainen

I started my blog by looking back to the year 2003 and to my discussion paper “I-Europe”. I wanted to have a fresh look at my earlier effort to stimulate discussion on integrative, innovative, intercultural and inclusive developments in voctional education and training (VET). Also, I wanted draw attention to a critical turining point in the development of the European cooperation programmes and in European VET research communities. And I promised to continue the story to present date and ‘back to future’.

Unfortunately I did not find the time to continue the story immediately. Yet, I think it is worth to have a look at the changing preconditions for European cooperation and the related dynamics in European research networks.

European cooperation climates and European added value

In this blog entry I will concentrate on how the views on European cooperation have changed in the transition from the earlier European programmes (mid -90s to 2000) to the current European framework processes and newer programmes.

From my perspective it is important to remind that the earlier European programmes emphasised strongly the principle of ‘subsidiarity’. The European cooperation activities in education and training were launched to support the development of national VET systems and related initiatives. The expectations on ‘European added value’ were linked to the perspective that European comparisons, network activities and pilot projects would promote a climate of mutual learning.

In this context there was a willingness to promote knowledge enrichment between parallel projects and complementary programmes. This was especially the case between the Leonardo projects and the special support programme for “targeted socio-economic research’. Moreover, there was a positive climate regarding ‘networking the networks’ with the help of European seminars and joint researcher-initiated portals.

Yet, shortly after the Lisbon summit 2000 the cooperation climate started to change. Gradually the Lisbon goals (“Making Europe the leading innovative reagion by 2010)” were transformed into follow-up agendas (such as “Education and training 2010”) and linked to intergovernmental framework processes (e.g. the Bologna process and the Copenhagen process). Thus, the idea of ‘Europan dimension’ was increasingly derived from the European policy frameworks and policy processes – no longer from the perspective of mutual learning or rom joint knowledge enrichment.

Alongside this development the European cooperation programmes in education and training were brought closer to the European framework processes and related policy priorities. At the same time the European research funding was promoted with an emphasis on ‘high sience’ and ‘critical mass’. In this respect there was less talk of complementary relations between different programmes. Furthermore, there was less interest in research-based knowledge development with the help of seminars, open spaces and thematic portals. Instead, the emphasis was shifted towards technical working groups and follow-up studies that were closely linked to the framework processes.

European VET research communities and the search for new cooperation models

Therefore, the Open Meeting of the VETNET network during the ECER 2003 (see my previous blog) took place in the middle of a change in the European cooperation climate. Looking back, it is easy to see that the two initiatives that were presented there (Alan Brown’s initiative to promote networking across national research programmes and my initiative to launch researcher-led knowledge development on the basis of a joint strategy paper) did not pave the way for sustainable cooperation.

On the one hand these initiatives were raising hopes that the national programmes could provide sufficiently strong backing for trans-national cooperation measures (and for related knowledge development). On the other hand these initiatives were based on the expectation that the existing research networks and thematic research communities would be strong enough to create new research agendas and working concepts. In both respects the development after 2003 has been characterised by a low tide in European VET-related research cooperation:

a) The enlargement of European Union had broadened the basis for European cooperation and the previous concepts for comparing countries and country clusters were insufficient.

b) The reforms and policy changes at the national level were becoming less transparent and there was less interest to learn from constant updates.

c) The earlier thematic networks or ‘container networks’ had reached the point of saturation and the individual members were shifting towards new research themes.

d) The efforts to develop web-based infrastructures for European research communities were either suffering from infant diseases (like the REM communication forum or the CEDRA portal) or streamlined into externally controlled services (like the Cedefop ‘virtual communities’).

Indeed, after 2003 it seems that the European framework prcesses and the European cooperation programmes have started to create a mechanism of questioning and answering that feeds itself (see the diverse technical working groups, specific policy-relaed tenders and follow-up studies). Alongside these developments there is less interest on, what European lessons VET researchers have learned from the cooperation experiences that have a longer history than the current European policies.

Of course, the VETNET network of European VET researchers has tried several times to launch a new debate on researchers’ own initiatives (see http://www.vet-research.net):

  • at ECER 2004 the VETNET Opening Colloquium debate on “VET PISA” (as an alternative for the current PISA studies in general education),
  • at ECER 2005 the workshop on “Communities, networking and web-based support”,
  • at ECER 2006 the VETNET Forum on “European Qualification Framework” and
  • at ECER 2007 the VETNET Forum on the 10-year history of VETNET activities at the ECER conferences.

However, as the experience has shown, it has been relatively easy to start a common discussion at a conference platform. Yet, it has been very difficult to organise pratical follow-up process that gets proper funding when the ideas are fresh. Therefore, one may ask the question, what is it worth to look back at the old “I-Europe” document and the Sisyphos work that was done to promote European research dialogue at that time. Doesn’t the development in the recent years show that there is no room for such self-initiated debates.

As far as I am concerned, I think this would be a very nearsighted conclusion and a very bad misreading of the history of European VET research. To me, the key issue is not what the present European cooperation climate appears to be (in the light of the policy frameworks). To me there is a reason to go deeper into such developments (in VET and in work-related learning) that are not addressed by intergovernmental agreements, framework processes and programme priorities. Therefore, there may be a reason to have a new look at the “I-Europe” framework from the perspective of ‘going back to future’.

I think this is enough for the moment. In the next posting I will discuss the issue of alternative futures for VET and for VET-related research.

Pekka Kämäräinen

Revisiting I-Europe – Part 1: Back to ECER 2003, Hamburg

November 13th, 2007 by Pekka Kamarainen

I have chosen “I-Europe” as the title of my personal blog. Obviously, there is a story behind this title. In this case the story is related to discussions at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2003 in Hamburg. Looking back, these discussions were a turning point in the development of European vocational education training (VET) research communities. Moreover, for me personally the discussions in Hamburg (and the follow-up phase) were a learning experience in my own re-positioning as a European VET researcher. So, I need to revisit the Hamburg experience in order to explain what this blog of mine stands for in the current discussion on European VET research and in the mapping of European innovations in VET.

Back to ECER 2003 in Hamburg

Alongside the ECER 2003 in Hamburg the VETNET network of European VET researchers (see www.vet-research.net) organised an Open Meeting to discuss alternative prospects for European research cooperation. The reasons for organising this special meeting were the following factors:

  1. The preparation of proposals for the 6th European framework programme had become a Marathon run for creating huge consortia to cover ‘critical mass’ of European VET research by strong partners. Yet, at the end of this Marathon there semmed to be very few survivors and there was much doubt whether such consortia were workable.
  2. As an alternative option for trans-national cooperation in European educational research the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP) of the UK had started to create a network with other national research programmes in education and training. The related “Learning in Knowledge Society” (LinKS) platform appeared to offer a new avenue for European cooperation (independently of Brussels).
  3. In addition to the two above mentioned developments there was a need to discuss the state of the art in VET research after the completion of earlier generations of European projects and networked research activities. Also, there was an open question, how the umbrella networkVETNET could support new initiatives.

The “I-Europe” approach as an alternative agenda

My contribution to the Open Meeting was related to the third point. I prepared a Power Point presentation (which I still have to dig out from the archives of lost treasures) and subsequently a strategy paper (see the attached document) – both with the heading “I-Europe”. My idea was to stimulate VET researchers’ own debate on a future European research agenda. The “I-Europe” approach drew attention to following developments in VET and to related research tasks:

a) Integrative developments: The need to analyse the role of European framework processes and the prospects for promoting mutual learning across different VET systems or VET cultures;

b) Innovative developments: The need to analyse the role of pedagogic innovations in VET or work-related learning and their relevance for wider innovation agendas in working life and reagional contexts.

c) Intercultural developments: The need to analyse internationalisation of labour markets, redistribution of job opportunities and new mobility across Europe as a challenge for hitherto national-oriented VET policies and practices.

d) Inclusive developments: The need to analyse the possibilities for promoting social inclusion and alternative career prospects with the help of vocational learning and the use of portfolios in the empowerment of learners.

As I remember it, the “I-Europe” presentation was received well in the meeting and there was a great sense of having something common to be shared with the colleagues. I was encouraged to write it down as a strategy paper and to circulate it across Europe. Some colleagues felt that we should sign it as a “Manifesto”. But the everday life brought very soon the grey realities into picture.

The short history  of the follow-up

When I actually managed to write my thoughts into a strategy paper and to present thed paper for the VETNET board meeting some months later, there was very little do be done with it. The colleagues gave praise for bringing together several strategic points and suggesting corresponding activities (reviewing, accompanying and evaluating activities). Yet, without special funding to carry out such measures, there was no prospect to continue the discussion on the basis of the “I-Europe” strategy paper. Everyone was busily looking for new funding opportunities and there was very little available for such self-developed initiatives to promote European research & development dialogue in the field of VET.

As I remember the discussion at the VETNET board meeting, one of the collegues – possibly Alan Brown – mentioned that the paper was years ahead its time. At the moment this seamed to me as a ‘fair enough’ interim assessment and to move on to other issues. Now, after some years have passed, it is possible to look back and consider, what all has changed and what would now be appropriate ways to stimulate new research intiatives, networking and knowledge sharing in European VET research. Furthermore, now it is possible to take a look what are the new developments in the European landscape of VET-related innovations.

So, this is the background story for my personal blog. In my next posting I will revisit the “I-Europe” approach from the perspective of present date and bring the debate ‘back to future’.

Pekka Kämäräinen

PS. For those who have an interest to go deeper into the discussions at ECER 2003 in Hamburg I have also attached my related mission reports of the year 2003 and my presentation at our ECER symposium.

Welcome to I-Europe

November 11th, 2007 by Pekka Kamarainen

Pontydysgy will from now on host my personal blog. I thank Graham and Dirk for this opportunity and try to do my best.

I will write on current developments in vocational education and training (VET) with a focus on

  • Innovations in teaching/learning processes and in the use of digital media,
  • Integrative initiatives in European cooperation and in trans-continental dialogue,
  • Inclusive initiatives in the shaping of educational pathways and vocational progression routes,
  • Intercultural understanding at the level of international cooperation projects and everday life in education and training.

All this is related to my work as a researcher in VET (with a focus on European and international cooperation). In a short while I will tell more of the background of the name “I-Europe” and explain what it stands for.
Welcome to share this space with me,

Pekka Kämäräinen

(Pekka Kämäräinen is a senior researcher at Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB), University of Bremen and a voluntary test-writer at the blog-space of Pontydysgu.)

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