This article was first publish on the ECCTIS blog
Like many other countries in the world, aspects of public perception towards technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in Turkey need to be addressed. In Turkey, public perception of a quality education still favours the academic route and an understanding persists that students who opt for vocational education are less able. The approach to resolving this perceived disparity between the two educational routes has been to focus on promoting TVET through real-life examples of best practice and has resulted in the prejudice against vocational education slowly being broken down, and its reputation as a viable, valuable option for young learners gaining strength.
At the end of May the Research & Consultancy team participated in an EU-funded study visit* to the Turkish province of Mersin, where the impact of this approach was really experienced first-hand. The programme consisted of discussions and meetings with key stakeholders in the TVET sector, providing an opportunity to share experiences and perspectives on best practice in Turkey and more widely in Europe. In theory the purpose of the visit was to explore issues around the valuable contribution that partnerships can make to TVET, but in practice it explored the broader issues of competency-based and modular TVET curricula, teacher training for TVET teachers, Lifelong Learning, the importance of the Vocational Qualifications Authority, developing TVET in compliance with the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), working towards a system of credit transfer (ECVET), and raising awareness and ownership of TVET. Specific to Turkey, three interesting aspects emerged as a result of the study visit:
- The sheer amount of investment in education in Mersin
The education system in Mersin benefits from investment from all directions, both public and private, and government departments and educational institutions use this in order to deal with lack of funding and financial reserves. The private sector takes its social responsibility towards the future population and education very seriously, and companies and businessmen invest in schools and school buildings. The government stimulates these investments by giving tax reductions. In turn, schools are experienced in representing themselves to the community in order to secure and maintain funds.
- The centralised nature of investment in education
Interestingly much of the government investment in education seems to be controlled by central rather than regional government. This means that the regional education directorates have little autonomy in the allocation of funds to specific areas of education, and as such development in the sector follows the national agenda.
- The selectivity of students within the TVET sector
An aspect of the TVET sector in Mersin that varied significantly from the UK system was that the schools visited as part of the programme remained highly selective in nature. The TVET sector in the UK has been designed to widen participation in education to those less able or interested in an academic education. However the study visit revealed that TVET schools and colleges in Turkey remain highly selective in their recruitment practices and thereby ensure that they select only the brightest and most capable students. Although this is beneficial for the schools, it may be that students who might have once needed this route into education are now being denied it due to competition for places.
More commonly across all the participant countries (including Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the UK) it was recognised that the employability of students when they exit the education system is an area that requires attention in order to ensure they have the relevant skills and competencies to enter the workforce. Key observations were:
- Lithuania has a well-developed approach to enabling university students to be work ready. There is open dialogue between students and local employers, facilitated by universities and enabling students to know what is required of them to increase their chances of employability. This helps students in several ways, including the ability to tailor their specific courses according to local business needs, the ability to build relationships with businesses, and developing thesis topics which are relevant and contribute to real business situations.
- Poland has identified that there are two streams of work-enabling education – vocational and higher. In vocational education there is a lack of skilled trainers to develop young people’s employability skills and in higher education students are not work ready. They are currently pursuing a two strand strategy to improve higher education student work-readiness by firstly focusing on skills required by the market and secondly focusing on universities developing research knowledge.
- Finland has noted an increase in the number of unemployed graduates, attributed to a lack of employment skills. Although Finnish education policy is reducing budget allocation to Polytechnics (seen as a continuation of vocational training) the universities are not capturing the students unable to obtain places at Polytechnics. Competence based training, or learning in the workplace are both popular for vocational training in Finland.
- In the UK it is recognised by businesses that most graduates are not work ready and lack basic employment skills. To overcome this, a number of universities are developing programmes to enhance their students’ employability through enhancing professionalism, reflection and critical learning, lifelong learning, communication, and teamwork skills. In such programmes students engage with employers throughout their awards, either through a range of work related opportunities such as projects, assessments, visiting speakers or work opportunities. Academics are encouraged to build networks with employers and to undertake research or consultancy work where appropriate.
These observations indicated similar approaches adopted by the participating countries in cooperation between education institutions and key stakeholders and an appreciation of the importance of close cooperation as the best way to maximise resources and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the education system.
Participation in the study visit was an enlightening experience and highlighted current issues in education systems across Europe. Having explored the theory of partnerships in education, the Research & Consultancy Team is now hoping to continue putting this into practice by realising future partnerships in education. In line with UK NARIC, ECCTIS Ltd’s purpose to facilitate mobility, such partnerships will centre on easing transitions for students both across and within education systems.