Vocational education and training (VET) is an important instrument for setting up and implementing European economic and social policies. In order to keep in pace with global economic developments, the European Community strives to be the most competitive economy.
Education, and especially vocational and higher education, is a major instrument to invest in the human potential which is the wheel barrow for competitive development. In several treaties (Lisbon, Copenhagen, Maastricht and Helsinki) policy goals are defined by the European councils. Vet should be modernised and shaped for lifelong learning. Educational policy, however, is the responsibility of the national governments within the European Union. European policies can only be directed to facilitate, support and advice national policy makers.
Seen from a systems development perspective, this is a wise decision: educational systems are heavily loaded with traditions and cultural history, which is difficult to unify in a European policy framework. At the other hand, mobility on the labour market and globalisation of economic activities emphasize on the urgency for transparency and comparability of education routes and outcomes. So Europe is searching for a balancing policy in which national governments are supported to work within a European frame of reference.
First and foremost, there is an overall assumption of necessary change: VET is seen as being generically related to the patterns of the industrial society. As a consequence, the emergence of the knowledge society puts new demands on VET, which has to react to those demands. Thus fundamental changes of VET systems are required.
The starting point of our analysis is based on the outcomes of a series of cases of VET polcies, selected as key changes in the 10 countries that have been included in the research. The analyses of the cases of policies tried to investigate the drivers of change in VET systems and to create an evidence-based approach to questions raised implicitly/explicitly in the policy making process.
In this contribution we elaborate on the results of the Observe project. In the Observe project we have studied change policy in VET-systems of 10 EU member states by studying historical cases of system reform programmes and cases which were not yet finished when the project started (December 2002). Based on these cases, the
Observe project is producing an overall analysis of the governance of system innovations in European VET.