A first formal encounter between vocational education and training (VET) researchers and practitioners, organised jointly by UNESCO/UNEVOC and Cedefop, took place at the United Nations campus in Bonn on 18 July.

The activity brought together over 60 participants from EU Member States and social partners, Iran, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, South Africa, Costa Rica and Nigeria to share their diverse contexts on issues of common concern.

It was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education (BMBF), the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB), WorldSkills International, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

The scope of this meeting, which will be followed up by another in Thessaloniki in 2018, is to form a common platform of evidenced-based research produced by Cedefop and the political, cultural and socio-economic realities that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) faces in different parts of the world.

A symbiotic relationship

In his opening address, Cedefop Director James Calleja said that the objective is to create a symbiotic relationship between researchers and practitioners, a cooperation that merges research findings with hands-on experiences in TVET and leads to better policy implementation.

He added: ‘Bringing together theory and practice into a symbiotic relationship is the way towards better and faster implementation of VET policy and reform; merging strengths and mitigating weaknesses of researchers and practitioners is at the heart of this joint activity with UNESCO/UNEVOC.’

UNEVOC Head of Office Shyamal Majumdar stressed the importance of Cedefop’s research as a platform for dialogue with other regions of the world to enhance VET structures and programmes. Mr Majumdar noted: ‘Our diversity is a strength which we need to exploit to design better roadmaps towards better VET.’ He highlighted the importance of permeability and access as indicators of healthy VET systems.

Cedefop’s contribution

The first results of the ongoing Cedefop project on the changing nature and role of VET were presented by expert Jens Bjornavold, while Head of Department for VET Systems and Institutions Loukas Zahilas discussed the attractiveness of VET: identifying what matters.

A panel of researchers and practitioners from Germany, Nigeria, Brazil and Greece as well as discussants from European and non-European countries and social partners debated the presentations.

Attractiveness was used as an entry point to exchange ideas on many interrelated areas, such as the role of stakeholders, societal and cultural traditions, the necessity to inform and provide evidence-based guidance and to put VET an equal footing with general education.

Increasing quality is important, but not enough to change VET opinions and perceptions. Parity of esteem between general and vocationally oriented education and training depends on a conception change in the years to come.

Concluding this first encounter, Mr Calleja observed that the exchange of experiences brought to the forefront six key issues across several countries: the need to establish a positive VET image by changing mindsets; the importance of adding value to VET qualifications through access and permeability; the need to address curricula and infrastructure to attract stakeholders and learners; the essential political backing to ensure adequate VET resources; the need to engage constructively and permanently social partners; and the necessity of linking VET to employability through the acquisition of sectoral, behavioural and transversal skills.

He added: ‘In an age of technology, having knowledge workers and practitioners working in silos is counterproductive to reform and implementation. Both categories need to be entrepreneurial in their approaches; swapping roles if necessary, but certainly keeping their dialogue alive.’