By Markus Maurer, Zurich University of Teacher Education.
In today’s highly globalised world it would be surprising if governments and their experts, whether operating in economically highly or less highly developed contexts, tried to resolve the challenges of vocational education and training (VET) by developing context-specific solutions from scratch. Rather, they virtually always try – as in most other domains of public policy – not to “re-invent the wheel”, and therefore look for models and best practices that have worked elsewhere. Policy transfer today is, thus, a very common phenomenon in the world of skills development, and has led to what McGrath has called this the global toolkit of vocational skills development. Certainly, this toolkit is nothing new, if one thinks of the emergence of vocational schools during the colonial era or of the career of manpower planning in the decades following the Second World War.
In view of their rapid global diffusion, national qualifications frameworks (NQF) are clearly one of the most prominent current tools in the kit. Given the complex set of actors that are promoting their development as well as the large number of countries that have started their implementation, it has even become difficult to consider this a process of traditional transfer of a model from one country to another. Ironically, even though so many countries have started to develop their NQF, this decision is rarely based on an analysis of evidence on their impact elsewhere. Rather, the fact alone that so many countries world-wide are adopting the model seems to be an argument in its own right that reinforces the diffusion process and complements other justifications, such as the ambition to increase the comparability of VET programmes within the system and with other countries, to improve permeability between VET and general education etc. Unfortunately, the little evidence we have on the effects of NQF is not very promising, particularly when it comes to developing and transition countries: The implementation often proves difficult, trainees are not seeing better training quality and hardly ever is access to further education training programmes improved, let alone access to foreign labour markets.
Somewhat in the shadow of the career of NQF, the dual model of VET, i.e. the systematic articulation of school-based vocational education and workplace-based learning, is also on the way to become a tool in the VET kit, though its outreach matches that of the NQF in no way. In particular, some of the German-speaking countries are interested in promoting this trend in development cooperation. There is thus re-emerging interest in a policy that had been strongly promoted by Germany until the 1990s when it was criticised for producing poor results, particularly in terms outreach and sustainability – and was followed by a period during which German development aid put little emphasis on VET. At the same time, Switzerland, whose aid budget is considerably smaller than Germany’s, had, for long, preferred not to be so explicit about the dual model and provided support to different forms of VET.
The current, growing interest in the transfer of the dual model, not only in these two but also in other European countries where workplace-based learning plays a key role in VET, has a number of reasons: firstly, many actors in these countries are deeply convinced of the effectiveness of this type of vocational learning and also consider it to be important to keep youth unemployment at a low level. These convictions are particularly strong among policy makers and, notably in Switzerland, among many VET professionals with mainly domestic expertise. Secondly, many experts who are aware of common trends in VET at the global level, are critical of the breath-taking career of the Anglo-Saxon NQF model and consider the dual model more in line with the real needs of VET systems in developing and transition countries.
Though it seems important to not only focus on system-level changes but on improving education and training processes at the level of their provision, it would be wrong to promote the dual model as a global panacea solution in development cooperation. The conditions for success, notably the readiness of the private sector to get involved into training delivery on a long-term basis, are, in many countries, not so different from those in earlier decades. Support to actual policy learning that aims at finding context-specific solutions to involve the private sector into VET, be in overall planning, curriculum development, delivery, financing or certification, might be a more worthy endeavour.
Markus Maurer is professor of vocational education at the Zurich University of Teacher Education. His research focuses on implementation of education and training policy reforms, on adults in vocational education as well as on comparative analysis of education and training systems. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Maurer, M., & Gonon, P. (Eds.). (2014) The Challenges of Policy Transfer in Vocational Skills Development: National Qualifications Frameworks and the Dual Model of Vocational Training in International Cooperation. Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien: Peter Lang.
>>Related Post: Maurer ‘Policy Transfer in Vocational Skills Development: Dual System and NQF Promises’ 24th Jan 2013.
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