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Higher VET and university degrees: parallel universes

At the high-level 40th anniversary conference of the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence on 28 October, Cedefop Director James Calleja argued that ‘higher vocational education and training (VET) and university degrees are parallel universes that can be enriched by greater cooperation and convergence.’

Addressing a roundtable session on higher education and European integration, he added that ‘it is perhaps the right time to advocate for a European University College that creates synergy between the Bologna and the Copenhagen processes.’

According to Mr Calleja, statistical data from international and global reports illustrate that we live in times where mismatching, surplus of skills, lack of behavioural skills and automation are changing the ways in which higher education institutions (HEIs) are expected to prepare young and adult learners for the world of work. ‘The labour market is increasingly becoming challenging, demanding, unpredictable and skill-intensive,’ he said.

At the same time 70 million European adults lack basic skills. Mr Calleja stressed the need to empower the so-called lost generations but also future generations with transversal and sectoral skills relevant to the labour market.

Technological development is a threat to those without basic literacy, numeracy and IT skills and an opportunity that can reach more individuals with knowledge, skills and competences. Quoting a World Economic Forum report, the Cedefop Director said that the 4th industrial revolution will be focused on the development of talent.

He added: ‘Skill demand and changing skill requirements are more pronounced than ever across many production and service-oriented sectors. Yet education sectors, particularly higher education, often live in silos; hence the idea of a European University (which the EUI is promoting) should take into account the synergy of the Bologna and Copenhagen processes with strengths accumulated in Member States and within HEIs, and that this is the time to converge higher education degrees, whether learners come from the VET stream or from purely scientific streams. The creation of a European University College could well be the first concrete step towards a real European integration in this sector.’

At the political level, Mr Calleja said that this could be an excellent pathway towards social inclusion and cohesion, permeability, end of the silo mentality, bridging the worlds of education and employment and a rapprochement between teachers and operators in education, and managers and directors in the workplace. A European University College will also provide a platform for better integration at European level of the acquisition of technical and academic skills, higher education qualifications, the Bologna and Copenhagen processes on academic and professional degrees, mobility and lifelong learning, funding and governance of higher education.

Anniversary exhibition

Prior to the roundtable session, Mr Calleja opened the Cedefop 40th anniversary exhibition, which, on the initiative of Cedefop experts Marc Willem and Robert Stowell, will be on display at the EUI for two weeks. He said that both EUI and Cedefop are now 40+ years old and their longstanding cooperation has led to this exhibition on the history of Cedefop.

The exhibition is a tribute to all those who, over four decades, have supported Cedefop’s work at different levels. Mr Calleja noted that its title ‘Old roots for new routes’ was inspired by the Centre’s achievements and the challenges that lie ahead: ‘The last 41 years are marked with developments in a sector which constantly evolves to prepare young and adult learners for employability and employment throughout their working life.’