02 SES 03 B, Qualification Frameworks and Skills Systems
It has can been widely affirmed argued that globalization has profoundly affected education and its forms of governance (Green, 2002;, Rizvi, 2004;, Daun, 2005;, Leuze et al., 2007;, Ozga and Lingard, 2007;, Nagel et al., 2010). Educational discourses revolve around the learning outcomes approach and, searching to succeed in international rankings, performativity and comparison have become main pre-requisites for national educational reforms. The high extensive interest of governments to enhance competitiveness and economic performance, boosted by influential transnational organizations' agendas, has taken national policy makers to increasingly refer to 'successful' educational models developed in other political entities. Consequently, a 'policy borrowing' approach to policy making, searching 'international experiences for examples of unique, transferable "best practice" (Raffe, 2011b: 1), has prevailed over 'policy learning' dynamics, which use international experience for a broader range of purposes, also developing a deeper national historical understanding, as a way to identify policy strategies that would be better embedded in national contexts (Chakroun, 2008).
Vocational Education and Training (VET) is not an exception to these trends. The outcome-based National Qualifications Frameworks (NQF) have been considered the a prime means to transform and modernise VET systems (Chakroun, 2010) although the scarcity of reliable studies on their impact (Johnson and Wolf, 2009, Young, 2007) (Young, 2007; Johnson and Wolf, 2009) reveals little evidence on their success. Allais (2010a) states that the dominant policy borrowing approach to policy making has been one of the reasons why NQFs have been so broadly introduced.
International comparisons and the processes of policy borrowing/learning have been profusely beenextensively addressed researched by international scholars. Nevertheless, in most of the cases, this comparative analysis has focused on nation states and, at a lesser degree, coterminous nations. Cases of sub-sections of a state, possibly with the exception of Scotland and UK ‘Home International’ comparisons (e.g. Raffe, 2005), have not sufficiently beenfeatured strongly as the focus of policy borrowing-learning conceptions, even though these sub-sections may have developed differentiated relationships to globalization in their approach to educational reforms than the wider unitary state. In the case of the EU, policy learning has become a mechanism for governing education, as part of the so called Open Method for Coordination (OMC). That model of multilevel governance, based on Member States' coordination and cooperation, is affecting policy transfer among states (Lange and Alexiadrou, 2010). Consequently, state- level views and analysis prevail over smaller units' insights, which might get masked to the general understanding. The learning on the ways solutions may be tailored to the needs of smaller particular areas might be thus restricted.
All of the above suggests that a further exploration of specific regional (nested or no co-terminus) cases is needed in order to attain a broader and richer mutual policy learning in VET policies' design and steering.
This article investigates the case of a regional government in Spain. It scrutinises the VET reforms, which included the development of NQF, pursued by the Basque Government in a shared-power policy arrangement. I conclude that it did not apply the prevailing line of development of VET reforms. It will be argued that the collective capacity for policy learning and change, which was acquired through its differentiated approach to VET reforms, might provide anexplanation as to the region's relative competitive advantage to face upcoming industrial revolution, therefore becoming a case of interest for other systems of governance and for contributing to a better achievement of EU's aims for VET and, as a result, on its strategic objectives of economic growth and social cohesion.
The aim of the research was to better understand policy borrowing and learning processes with relation to VET reforms. The case of Basque Autonomous Community was chosen in order to delve into a reform process developed within a shared-power policy making arrangement. A qualitative research strategy helped unravel the complexities of the process under scrutiny, in which relationships and events were interconnected within a specific socio-political setting. Document analysis and semi-structured interviews with 'information rich' (Patton, 1990: 169) participants in the process was used as data collection method. Finally, thematic analysis, with prevalence of inductive reasoning, was applied to data.
In the light of the research, I argue that the interest of the Basque Government to deal with the specific socioeconomic problems of the region, together with its relative economic and political autonomy from the state, caused policy innovation in VET and, consequently, initiated a process of divergence within the state. That process was based on a quite expansive policy learning approach which indeed helped develop more effective policies. The differentiated approach to policy-making in VET favoured the development of a collective capacity for policy learning and change that might explain its current relative competitive advantage to tackle upcoming industrial revolution. Indeed, the exploration of the process helped identify core elements of the policy learning approach to the reforms. Knowledge on the own system was combined with research on other European models of skills provision and, afterwards, adaptation of the best solutions to the region's specific needs was undertaken. Stakeholders and practitioners were actively involved in the design and the deployment of reforms. What I name a 'VET community' was built along that process and has since then contributed to a steady and no politicised evolution of the system. I suggest that the purpose, the design and, specially, the way the qualifications framework was introduced provided an opportunity for policy learning. The region has built a method for designing and deploying VET reforms, which have affected curriculum content, pedagogical methodology, management of centres, training of teachers and collaboration among centres, companies and R&D institutions, among others. The Basque case also reveals that whenever addressing VET qualifications reforms, the context of the reforms need to be considered thoroughly. That means to grasp the particular interactions among key elements of a skills provision system as well as the specific political and governance system, as they all mediate the outcome of the reforms.
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