Good fences make good neighbours

by Oscar Valiente

Consultant, OECD Directorate for Education

‘Good fences make good neighbors’ says Robert Frost’s protagonist in ‘’Mending wall’. Frost himself was not so sure. Barriers in education – like barriers between people – are not what cities and regions need in our time: rather what they need is better collaboration between the vocational and the university sectors for social and economic development. A very good example of this is the area of lifelong learning. Lifelong learning does not fit well with a system based on barriers and divisions even when they are pragmatic and blurred. Learners need to move from one sector to another in different moments of their life and tertiary education systems don’t always allow that.

Vocational and the university sectors can collaborate through updating and upgrading workers’ skills in firms, sharing business links for apprenticeships and internships, establishing dual programmes with the business sector, to name but a few. The range of possibilities for collaboration is very large and it goes from lifelong learning and skills development to creating partnerships to boost innovation in their cities and regions.
Institutional divisions between vocational and university education are unlikely to disappear, but the OECD through its reviews on Higher Education for Regional and City development provides international evidence of increased blurring of the boundaries.  Last week we jointly hosted an International Seminar on the “Collaboration between Vocational and University Education for Regional Development”  in San Sebastian  in Spain.  During the seminar we had the opportunity to see that some experts still claim a clear separation between institutions providing vocational skills and institutions providing academic knowledge, which has been traditionally the role of universities. In contrast, and during the same seminar, practitioners, policymakers and the business sector pushed universities to play other roles and to collaborate with other stakeholders.
Universities today need to be prepared to leave the ivory tower. The capacity to compete in the global knowledge economy depends on whether countries and regions can collaborate together meet the demand for high-level skills. There is room for the pines as well as for the apple orchard.
Photo: OECD/IMHE International Seminar “Collaboration between Vocational and University Education: Building Partnerships for Regional Development.” Left to right: Bernard HUGONNIER, Deputy-Director for Education, OECD; Isabel CELAÁ, Basque Minister of Education, Universities and Research, Basque Country; Iñaki GOIRIZELAIA, Rector of the University of the Basque Country, ES; Màrius RUBIRALTA, General Secretary for Universities, Ministry of Education, ES; Cristina URIARTE, University of the Basque Country, ES.  Credit: UPV/EHU University of Basque Country.

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