Centres of Excellence Network Launch
The network - founded in February and now boasting more than 90 members and associate members - is designed to encourage the sharing of experience and peer-to-peer learning by centres of excellence throughout ETF partner countries. Similar centres in the EU and institutions interested in promoting excellence in skills training are also welcome as associate members.
The network, which brings together both individual schools and clusters of schools (often partnered with businesses and other stakeholders), is focused on encouraging three key outcomes: peer learning, partnership and tools development.
There are also eight themes, designed to improve the work of the centres of excellence and encourage others with ambitions to expand their vision for education and training:
- Lifelong learning in VET - from initial to continuing training and adult education
- Education-business collaboration and cooperation
- Pedagogy and professional development
- Smart specialisation - mobilising innovation, ecosystems and SMEs
- Autonomy and institutional development (financing, leadership, governance)
- Going green - supporting sustainable goals
- Social inclusion
Georgios Zisimos, Senior Expert on EU Policies on Education and Training at the ETF, and a former advisor to the EC Commissioner for Education, says the time has come for such a network.
"Excellence in VET is no longer a one-man show - it is not something that can be done by one body or organisation. Traditionally, VET schools provide skills - provide learners with new skills to go out into the market. But now, VET schools are not only providers of skills, but also centres of innovation. They contribute to social needs - training migrants - they support industries to improve productivity, they upskill for employers, they train not only young learners but adults learners too."
It is to support this expanded vision - this more holistic vision for the best providers in VET - that the ETF created the network in order to support the development of partnerships, to help grow and expand centres of excellence, he adds.
Enthusiasm for such a network is evidence in the number of members and associate members that have already joined: initially the ETF set a target for 2020 of 50 members, but there are already now 93 members.
Within the network two sub-groups have already been set up - each with members from eight difference countries - to look at issues around autonomy and work-based learning.
"We have a lead institution for each group whose role is to develop and plan and action and shape the peer learning with our support and help," Georgios says.
"Preliminary findings from these groups will be presented at the December 3 event - which is an important milestone as this will be the first time we have all come together to discuss progress so far."
The network - inspired by the EU's existing network - should also act to encourage others to aim higher for what is, Georgios says, a continuous process of improvement.
"There are different perceptions of excellence; for us it mean a process of continuous development, a commitment to keep improving. There is no definitive target - you cannot reach a certain point and rest on your laurels; it is an endless process because the challenges are endless."
The ETF began to build the network by reaching out to ministers of education in partner countries, he adds - though he stresses that a ministerial stamp of approval is not a precondition for a school or cluster of schools and businesses being considered a centre of excellence.
Having a vision and being committed to it is a key foundation for any school aspiring to become a centre of excellence, Georgios says, although there is also a lot of hard work needed too.
"You need to address the pedagogical side, to make connections with businesses, research centres, universities; you need people that speak foreign languages… how you network internationally if no one speaks English?"
Commitment, vision, autonomy, funding, good governance - all are key qualities a centre of excellence needs, Georgios adds.
"The ETF is the heavy machinery behind this network; we function as a knowledge hub, where we collect information and do research and share findings."