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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

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  1. […] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptI 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 … […]

  2. […] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptI 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 … […]

  3. […] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptI 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 … […]

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