Commissioner Jan Figel’ was recently in Thessaloniki to announce the publication of Cedefop’s latest policy report, Continuity, consolidation and change: Toward a European era of vocational education and training, and to attend the Agora conference of the same title. He spoke briefly to Ioanna Nezi, Cedefop’s press officer.

Q: Commissioner Figel, what would you say is the single most important achievement, so far, of the Copenhagen Process?

A: I would have to say that it is the process itself. It speaks about the willingness and commitment of what are now 31 countries to work together on the modernisation of their vocational education and training systems.
If we think for a moment beyond the technicalities of the various instruments, what does this really mean? It means a Europe that is more friendly to knowledge and therefore, and more importantly, friendly to people. 

This process also creates synergies. As you know, apart from Copenhagen there is also the Bologna process for higher education. Without Copenhagen, Bologna would be too isolated. Now the two processes of policy cooperation can develop in parallel, like railroad lines, to facilitate the move toward a Europe of knowledge. The two processes can learn from each other while retaining their distinct character.


Q: Speaking of Bologna, there have been many references during this Agora and in the policy report itself to the links between higher education and VET. What do you think is the value of linking higher education with vocational education and training?

A: We are increasingly in need of people who have both horizontal and vertical knowledge - that is, not only very specific knowledge and skills in their own field but also a broader socioeconomic maturity, a human maturity. While seeking to develop skills, we must never lose sight of values.
For too long there has been an artificial polemic between the humanities and vocational education. But to me this reflects an immature understanding of tomorrows world. We should instead look to the example of personalities like Leonardo da Vinci, a great artist who also had a technical side. There should be no conflict between various kinds of knowledge.


Q: During the press conference earlier today, you described the role of the Commission in education and training policy by saying that the Member States are the masters, and the Commission is in the kitchen. Where in this kitchen would you place Cedefop?

A: Well, you know what professional kitchens are like. They never have only one chef, they work in teams. Agencies like Cedefop offer concentrated expertise but thats not all they offer. Working closely together with networks and with social partners, as Cedefop does, also brings a particular value, and closer link to the sitting room if you will. And we, as a team can bring together our various elements and create our contributions.

But what we must never forget is that you cannot really serve Europe unless the product is prepared with the utmost respect, understanding and trust. If these elements are missing, all we are doing is having meetings.

So I would say that the main achievement of these past few years, particularly in terms of Cedefops contribution, is that we have managed to build a lot of trust - we have shifted decisively towards providing a strong evidence base for policy development. And this, I am confident, is going to bring results.