23 SES 06 C, Networking in Education
The role of education and training for better socio-economic outcomes has gained increasing attention at the European level as a response to the European debt crisis. To strengthen (traditionally nation-state dominated) education and training policies in different member states, EU governance relies on soft and new modes of governance (Héritier & Rhodes, 2011; Maggetti, 2015). At the national level, we have seen comparable developments: state actors are networking with private and lower-level public actors and quasi-markets have been introduced in the public sector (Gornitzka, 2006). Such new modes of governance have emerged simultaneously with and partly due to new challenges such as digitisation, Europeanisation, global competition, marketisation and increasing social inequalities. In education, such challenges span different levels and sectors. In countries such as Germany, educational federalism complicates issues further. Another German peculiarity is a strict separation between training and the general education system (the educational schism, Baethge, 2006). Both educational federalism and the peculiar educational schism might lead to further incentives for multi-level experiments within and beyond the nation-state.
Experimentalist forms of governance (Sabel & Zeitlin, 2012; Zeitlin, 2016)bring together stakeholders to deliberate on policy challenges and develop strategies, standards, and benchmarks to address them. Being located at different levels and in different educational sectors, such multi-level experiments share a common logic of tapping into local knowledge, experimenting with best practices and iterations of downloading and uploading, in which ideas could be hybridized (Padgett, 2003)and in which intermediary layers play a key role. Multi-level experiments can ideally overcome barriers to change that derive, for instance, from rigid institutional boundaries between governance levels and educational sectors. Yet, little is known about how experimenting works at and between levels and sectors and about the role of intermediary layers that shape an iterative experimentalist process. Hence, this paper asks the following question:
What forms do experiments in education and training take across governance levels, how did the experiments emerge, how do they operate and what is their impact?
Employing the conceptual lens of experimentalist governance, the paper studies multi-level experiments by looking at agents on the ground (“laboratories” for potential policy innovation) and at the top-level “principals” (national or EU policy makers who deliberate on best practices across local contexts). Ideally, by letting agents report best practices back to the principal and here, into the broader field of policies of education and training, experimentalist governance creates a learning dynamic of levelling information asymmetries. In this respect, the EU is a “machine for learning from diversity” (Sabel & Zeitlin, 2012), which entails innovations from and for lower echelons of governance (Scharpf, 2001).
This paper looks at European and German cases to fill the above-mentioned research gap. It compares key multi-level experiments at and across different levels and with a focus on the distinct organisational field of vocational education and training (VET). At the European level, it studies the related exchange of best practices in policy networks, namely the ET (Education and Training) 2020 Working Groups, among them the Working Group on VET. For an in-depth study of the German case, it analyses the development of the German Alliance for Apprenticeships and it traces practices in state-level alliances and local experiments within Germany.
The research relies on institutionalist governance perspectives and traces practices at various governance levels. To understand the emergence and forms of experiments at various governance levels, the paper mostly focuses on an in-depth analysis of policy documents, and several exploratory expert interviews and European, national and regional statistical datasets. The focus of our research are practices (Pouliot, 2015) of stakeholders in local initiatives and in transnational governance networks at various levels, both national and sub-national initiatives in education and training as well as European-level networks. It focuses on VET policies, but also takes general school policies into consideration (for an in-depth analysis at a later stage) to comprise both sides of the postulated German educational schism (Baethge, 2006) that separate VET and general education in Germany (Powell and Solga, 2010; Graf, 2017).
As part of the EU’s “machine for learning from diversity” (Sabel & Zeitlin, 2012), the ET 2020 Working Groups constitute a soft, experimentalist form of governance and facilitate learning through iterations of uploading (Padgett, 2003) local experiences and downloading knowledge about best practices to other local settings. Within Germany, which is shaped by a tradition of decentralised cooperation in VET (Emmenegger, Graf & Trampusch, 2018), we see the emergence of alliances for apprenticeships orchestrated by the state both on the federal and state levels. We expect these new alliances to provide opportunities for networking and the exchange of best-practice experiments for private and public actors. Given Germany’s cutting-edge VET system but also its position as a big and relatively dominant EU member state, we expect Germany to be a pioneer for a European governance model of education and training in this policy field, potentially spreading its own experiments to other EU member states. In all, focusing on Germany’s role in this governance model, the proposed paper sheds light on how experiments have emerged and operate at various governance levels in Germany and how they impact a European governance model of education and training. Ultimately, this paper contributes to a better understanding of VET policies across governance levels in Germany and beyond, offering a first step towards a holistic picture of the character and role of multi-level experiments in the emergent European governance model of education and training.
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