The aim of the Changing nature and role of vocational education and training (VET) in Europe project is to improve our understanding of how VET is changing in the European Union countries (including Norway and Iceland). Over a three-year period (2016-18), the project will analyse how vocationally oriented education and training has developed and changed in the past two decades (1995-2015) and, on this basis, point to the main challenges and opportunities facing the sector today and in the future.

The project has distinguished three, partly overlapping, main perspectives: an epistemological and pedagogical perspective; an education system perspective; and a socio-economic or labour market perspective (see Figure below).

The epistemological or pedagogical perspective is the view usually taken by educationalists, psychologists and philosophers with a focus on issues of VET pedagogy, and the learning and development of individuals including their learning environment. From this perspective, it can be argued that the identity of vocational education is rooted in distinctive modes of production, representation, use and transfer of knowledge, which can be associated with particular ways of teaching and learning.  

An education system perspective is the view taken by people in educational administration, sociologists of education but also educational statisticians. It looks at the way VET as an institution has evolved and continues to evolve over time. It focuses on system and VET provider characteristics and is reflected in the way VET is represented in international statistics or country reports, the sort of ‘VET at a glance’ reports.  In this perspective, the variety of forms of VET, types of providers, levels, pathways and the nature and scale of VET in the initial (compulsory) phase of education and for adults, come to the fore. The relationship with other sectors, such as general education and VET teachers’ status, education and qualifications, are also of particular interest.

Using a socio-economic or labour market perspective, the wider societal functions of VET are considered. This is the view often taken by economists, labour sociologists, political scientists, but also historians, who will be interested in, for instance, the ways in which VET contributes to social stratification by providing access to particular career pathways and to the skills, competences and attitudes demanded by companies and their work systems. It is the status of learners (whether students in education or apprentices holding employment contracts with employers), the funding sources and mechanisms as well as the types of governance which are of particular interest in this perspective.

changing role vet

Source: Cedefop (2017). The changing nature and role of vocational education and training in Europe. Volume 1: Conceptions of vocational education and training: an analytical framework. Luxembourg: Publications Office. Cedefop research paper; No 63


The project work is divided into six separate but interlinked themes:

Definitions of VET

Vol. 1 VET conceptions
Vol. 2 Survey on VET conceptions

External drivers

Vol. 3 Responsiveness to external change

VET at upper secondary level

Vol. 4 Changing patterns of enrolment

VET and lifelong learning

Vol. 5 Education & labour market outcomes for graduates

Vol. 7 VET from a lifelong learning perspective

VET at higher levels

Vol. 6  Vocationally oriented education & training at higher education levels

Synthesis report - future scenarios            Vol. 7 VET in Europe 1995-2035:
           Future scenarios in the 21st century

Starting point for the project

Vocationally oriented education and training in Europe is changing. While traditionally associated with education and training at upper secondary level, VET is currently expanding and diversifying. In many countries, vocationally oriented education and training is being delivered by institutions outside the traditional VET sector, such as higher-level institutions (EQF 5 and above), companies and sectors. Operating at both national and international levels, todays’ VET is increasingly addressing the challenges of lifelong learning.   

Aim of the project

The project attempts to take one step back and gain a deeper understanding of the VET system itself, its characteristics and dynamics, and its relationship to other education and training sectors. It aims to shed light into existing differences across Europe (EU + Norway and Iceland) and improve our understanding of change and developments over the past two decades. The project findings feed into the ongoing debate on European VET cooperation strategies post 2020.

How Cedefop supports the project

Cedefop has organised events on the topic of the changing role of VET, allowing policy-makers and practitioners to compare practices and exchange experiences.

Related projects

The project’s work builds on, and contributes to, previous and ongoing Cedefop work. You will find more information on related projects in the links below:

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