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Remembering David Raffe

March 4th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Some time ago we received the sad news that David Raffe, professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Edinburgh had died unexpectedly. For us David was a colleague who had been very strongly present during the early years of the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) and the early phase of the VETNET network (for research in Vocational Education and Training). Also, many of us had worked together with him in European projects and conferences. For us he was not just one of the colleagues but a person from whom we learned a lot in many respects. Therefore, it is appropriate stop for a moment to remember David.

We have already prepared a joint text in the name of the VETNET network and sent it to the University of Edinburgh to be included in their condolence book and we have sent it out via the VETNET mailing list. In this process the veterans of VETNET who had known David for years (like Sabine, Johanna, Martin, Graham and Karen) shared views with those who joined VETNET later and had less chances get acquainted with him. We all were hit by the news and we felt that we want to share our memories with the community. During this process several personal memories came to my mind. Here I would like to share some of them shortly.

My first encounter with David was at the pilot-ECER in Enschede, the Netherlands, in June 1992. I was participating as a relatively young researcher, just entering the European arenas. David was there as a well-known scholar and as one of the keynote speakers of the whole conference. He put into discussion the issue :”Is modularisation becoming a common currency in European education and training?” I still remember the way he started to explore different concepts of flexibility that were attached to modularisation as well as different prospects for progression and growth of knowledge. He also drew our attention to main effects and side effects of reforms and alerted us of one-sided views (affirmation vs. rejection). Altogether, he gave us a lesson, how to avoid easy answers and how to get deeper into the complexity of reform processes.

Later on I had the chance to observe the work of a European project (“Post-16 strategies”) in which England and Scotland were participating as different countries. This project avoided the pitfall of getting different systems into competition with each other. Instead, the partners tried to identify, what kind of strategies for promoting parity of esteem (between general and vocational learning) have success chances in their countries – and how they can learn from each other. To me it was striking that the ‘big names’ assembled in this project accepted the role of contributors instead of claiming the leadership for themselves. Here, David was a good contributor. As an annexed event I had the chance to witness a session of an Anglo-Scottish comparative project in which English and Scottish researchers were in genuine dialogue on recent developments in their respective countries.

A third memory is related to my former employer Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) shortly after it had moved from Berlin to Thessaloniki. Cedefop was in the process of new start and repositioning and was re-establishing its contacts to different stakeholders. The Management Board had a special session in which Commissioner Edith Cresson was attending. David was invited as a representative of the research community to discuss the development policies in vocational education and training (VET) and the role of Cedefop. To me it seemed that David’s speech was very helpful in creating an air of listening to and learning from research (rather than assigning researchers as sub-contractors to promote given policy priorities).

Later on we realised that David was putting priority on working in Scotland – or on comparisons between England & Wales, Scotland, North Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Here again, he could surprise us with findings on unexpected diversity – brought together with common language and seemingly common vocabulary.

Now that we have shared the news of David’s death we have received several reactions from colleagues of old from different parts of Europe – Alan from England, Eduardo from Portugal, Georg from Germany, Jose Luis from Spain, Sören from Denmark … We all have come together with our thoughts to remember David and to respect his life work.

Rest in peace, David

2 Responses to “Remembering David Raffe”

  1. Christopher Winch says:

    Like many others, I was shocked and very sad at the news that David had died. He was the most kind and civilised person, very modest about his own hugely valuable contribution to the field. I last met him at a SKOPE seminar in Oxford, where he was in excellent form.

    My thoughts and sympathies go to his family and close friends. He will be greatly missed in the VET community as well.

  2. Barry Nyhan says:

    I was deeply saddened to hear of the unexpected death of David Raffe. The European VET research community has lost a great colleague, who made an enormous contribution to building this community. David was an innovator and tireless worker in the field of European VET research.Many people are grateful to him for his contributions as a representative of his own country Scotland, and as a European focused researcher. His work will continue to inspire those who are committed to furthering European research cooperation.

    Thank you David and may you rest in peace
    I offer my condolences to family, friends and colleagues

    Barry Nyhan, Ireland ( formerly European Commission and Cedefop)

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