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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.

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