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Reports on ECER’15 Budapest – Part Three: General impressions on the conference

September 17th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With me two previous blogs I have reported on special sessions in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER ’15) in Budapest (8.9.-11.9.2015). In the first post I reported on the symposium that was initiated by our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project team in Bremen. In the second post I discussed sessions in which similar intervention projects were presented. With this third post I will summarise some general impressions on the conference and give snapshots on some further sessions.

ECER in Budapest – Education and Transition(s)

The conference took place in Hungary – one of the countries in Central and East Europe (CEE) that went through a fundamental societal transition after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. During this year of ruptures Hungary had played a major role in cutting the barbed wires that separated different blocks in Europe and by opening its borders to those who wanted to seek refuge in the west.

During the years of transition the political and educational culture of the country went through different phases of transition – including the phases of Candidacy to EU Membership and the entry to Membership in 2004. Already during the phase of candidacy, Hungarian researchers has been involved in European cooperation and taken their place in the joint activities. Yet, it took some time before the Hungarian association of educational researchers joined the EERA family. Now that this had happened, we were pleased to see the conference taking place in Budapest.

Yet, by the time the conference dates got closer we felt concerned about the humanitarian crisis that was characterised by masses of refugees coming to Hungary (with the hope to continue to Austria, Germany and eventually to Scandinavia). The measures of the Hungarian government (building fences and trying to block the streams of refugees) did not appear compatible with European values – neither could they resolve anything. Therefore, before and during our conference we saw reports on refugees camping at the borders or railway stations, marching on the highways or seeking for transport to safer countries. As I said it – we saw this from the news, not in the vicinity of the conference venue. Knowing all this, we were pleased to observe that the EERA secretariat and the EERA council appealed the participants to support petitions and fund-raising to ease the burdens of refugees.

VETNET in Budapest – Education and Training in (Post-)Transition society

The European network for research in Vocational Education and Training (VETNET) has had a tradition to organise an opening colloquium in which the host country is recognised. From this perspective we were pleased to have as the keynote speaker of this session professor Andras Benedek from the Budapest University of Technology, former Director General in Vocational Education and former Minister of Education. He informed us both on the developments in the educational policies in post-transition Hungary, on recent reforms in vocational education and training (strengthening of workplace learning and the role of chambers) and on the current model for vocational teacher education. In addition to his scholarly presentation he invited us to get a picture of the human side of Hungarian civil society, the openness for Europe in many NGOs and the willingness of individual citizens to help the refugees that entered their country.

We would have hoped to get more information in this colloquium on the post-transition developments in Hungary and in other CEE countries. For several reasons this was not the case. In a later paper session the local support person of VETNET, Magdolna Benke gave a presentation in which she informed of the short history of the National Institute for Vocational Education and her empirical studies to trace new developments in building partnerships to support the development of VET. My impression is that we still have some homework to do for further ECER conferences to learn more of transitions in VET during the post-transition period in CEE countries.

Nordic Countries in Budapest – Learning from Nordic Countries?

Participants from Nordic Countries (in particular Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) were strongly present in several paper sessions. Yet, the clear highlight was the symposium “Consideration of the Future of VET: Learning from Nordic Countries”. In this symposium Christian Helms Jörgensen (Denmark) and his team presented a joint Nordic project that analysed policy developments and prospects of VET development at national and trans-national level. Listening to the comparisons between Sweden and Denmark – presented by Daniel Persson Thunqvist (Sweden) – I got even more convinced that the developments in these countries need be analysed in a group picture. The same impression was supported by the historical analyses on Norway – presented by Håkon Höst and Svein Michelsen (Norway) – when they made the Danish and Swedish influences transparent. Yet, the presentation on Finland – by Maarit Virolainen (Finland) – made clear some specific national developments. (I do not want to go into further details since I am too much insider in this discussion and the work of the project has reached only an interim phase.)

Altogether, I was mostly happy with the sessions that I attended at ECER’15 and I got new inspiration to work further with the themes that are close to me. This is even more important now that were are preparing the next ECER conference as the one in which the VETNET network will celebrate its 20th anniversary. In this respect I will discuss the VETNET general assembly and the future plans of the network in my final post on ECER’15.

More blogs to come …

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