1.1.   Status quo or future oriented?

The policymaking process on the development of hpe is too often thwarted because even before having a clear picture of the nature and the impact of hpe one starts from the very beginning to question the institutional embedding of hpe-programmes. Basically these ‘institutional’ discussions are focused on alleged competence and status quo rather than on actual capacity and future requirements.

The providers of higher academic education (hae-institutes) in this respect consider themselves as to be the only possible providers of higher education. Since they -traditionally- have a great influence on the education policy makers the diversification within higher education was a long lasting process in many EU-countries. However, the demands of both the labour market and the students turned out to be strong and the diversification process resulted in an emerging of hpe-establishments. Thus, the diversification within higher education led to a diversification of higher education establishments: on the one hand hae-institutes focused on the provision of science/research-driven programmes and on the other hand hpe-institutes focused on the provision of labour market’s demand-driven programmes.

Similar processes have taken place or are still taking place in CEEC-countries: starting with institutional discussions in which the hae-providers claim to have the exclusive right to provide for higher education. Since the actual practice in EU-countries has proved that institutional discussions at the very initial phase of the development of hpe are ineffective, CEEC-countries can take advantage of this experience and they can avoid premature discussions on competence which disguise the topic that really matters: the concept of hpe-programmes. Only when the concept is clear and accepted an institutional discussion is fruitful.

3.2. Institutional setting

The basic features of hpe-programmes presented in paragraph 2 make it very clear that the occupational area a hpe-programme is aimed at must have a substantial say in the programme-design and in the monitoring of its relevance and quality. The institutional setting of hpe-programmes, therefore, should guarantee that the interference from the occupational area concerned is realized in a structural manner.

In the current education in CEEC-countries it is quite a new approach to involve permanently the ‘labour market’ in the organizational structure of educational establishments. Traditionally educational establishments are governed and managed by educators and they are quite often sheltered from the outside world.

As far as vocational education is concerned it is self-evident that a closed organizational structure is incompatible with its objectives: to ‘deliver’ graduates whose competence is accepted by the labour market. This requires an organizational structure, open to and linked with the occupational area concerned.

In Western countries hpe-establishments usually are governed by governing councils and managed by executive boards. The composition of the governing council, which is supervising the policy of the executive board, should reflect the interests of the occupational areas the hpe-establishment is aimed at. This implies that these occupational areas are represented in the governing council. The executive board, in charge of the establishment’s day-to-day management, is accountable to the governing council.

Interference from labour market must be structured not only at governing level but also at course level. Obviously every establishment will have its own approach. However, it is underlined that even at course-level interference from labour market must be integrated in the organizational structure of the establishment. This should be the common organizational feature of all hpe-programme providers who after all have to operate in an extensive network relevant to the education they offer.

Since hpe-programmes are based upon a new (open) concept of professional education the setting up and the management of these programmes in CEEC-countries require an institutional embedding distinct from the existing educational establishments. And this even is an understatement as will be showed hereafter.

The practical setting up of a hpe-sector is usually carried out in one of the following three ways:

·         by establishing completely new hpe-institutions;

·         by re-arranging and upgrading (post)secondary vet-institutions;

·         by establishing hpe-programmes or hpe-institutions affiliated to hae-institutions.

Although it is the easiest way from the point of view of immediate implementing new principles and strategy and although it is very much in line with the growing demand for both higher education study-places and highly skilled professionals, setting up new hpe-institutions is not that obvious in the state-funded education sector of CEEC-countries, because it requires a huge capital investment far beyond their education budget.

 When using the second option -upgrading existing secondary vet-schools- one should take good care to ensure that the level of education provided meets hpe-standards. A recommendation for users of this alternative could be to aim at chopping off the secondary vet-programme and not to leave these vet-programmes and the hpe-programmes under one and the same roof. Actually, upgrading a vet-institution to hpe-level is a metamorphosis.[1]

 The third option -affiliation to a hae-institution- is statistically the least common way of doing things in Western Europe. Some countries report such efforts to be successful. The users of this alternative, however, have to keep in mind that there is evidence that the graduates of hpe-programmes affiliated to hae-institutions often choose further academic education instead of exploiting their qualification by entering the labour market. In this sense the newly created education doesn’t fulfill the aims it has been set up for: to provide the labour market in due time with the qualified professionals they ask for.

In any case, all three options are open and the choice among these alternatives is not the most crucial issue. The issue that really matters is that regardless of the strategy chosen (setting up new establishments, upgrading/transforming secondary VET schools or affiliation to hae-establishments) the organizational structure in which hpe is embedded is designed in accordance with the basic features of hpe-programmes as set out in paragraph 2.2.

 This is an essential requirement not only because of its impact on the quality of hpe but also because of the necessity to gain a distinct identity, clear to both students and labour market.

When hpe-programmes are offered within the setting of a hae-establishment, these programmes must be embedded in an organizational setting independent from the management of the host organization. In other words: since the objectives of hpe-programmes are distinct from hae-programmes the management of hpe-programmes cannot be subject to the management of the hae-establishment. From that point of view ‘starting from scratch’ by setting up new establishments exclusively focused on hpe-programmes is an obvious way to avoid all kind of institutional complications. However, as already has been mentioned above, the setting up of brand new hpe-institutes is far beyond the financial reach of CEEC-countries.

So, affiliation to hae-establishments or transformation of secondary vet-schools is a quite common approach in these countries. If affiliation is the case it is necessary to stress -again- that hpe-programmes must be managed and organised independently from the management of the host organization. Otherwise, hpe-programmes will become neither one thing nor the other and they never will develop into an identifiable and recognizable sector in higher education. That is the reason why many CEEC-countries have chosen for upgrading, actually transformation, of secondary vet-schools which then became hpe-establishments.

[1]  In the transition period, however, vet-schools selected for upgrading, could provide both programmes in order to secure the interests of the students

   enrolled in the secondary vet programme.