Governance Revisited

Challenges and Opportunities for Vocational Education and Training

by Regula Bürgi (Volume editor) Philipp Gonon (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 432 Pages


Global trends, such as an ever-rising service economy, rapid technological change and digitalization, challenge skill formation systems. Focussing on European countries, this edited volume examines the variety of European VET governance and VET governance research. In particular, it provides insights into regional, local and decentralized governance at meso (e.g. professional associations) as well as micro level (e.g. learning arrangements). As such, the edited volume sheds light on the hitherto far less explored dimensions of VET governance and highlights challenges as well as opportunities in VET governance in the 21st century.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: Governance Revisited. Challenges and Opportunities for Vocational Education and Training (Regula Bürgi and Philipp Gonon)
  • A. New Governance
  • Governing Monitoring in a Hybrid VET System. New Governance Structures and Monitoring Practices in Norway (Svein Michelsen and Håkon Høst)
  • VET between State and Market. England as an Extended Natural Experiment in VET Governance (Christopher Winch)
  • European Educational Governance Processes as a Catalyst for Permeability in Germany: Opening of Windows of Opportunity for New Discourses and Reforms (Nadine Bernhard)
  • B. Governance by Professional Associations
  • New Governance Encounters Neo-Corporatism. How Dynamics of Professionalization Challenge Swiss Associations (Regula Bürgi)
  • Governing Occupations: How Small Occupations Dealt with the Swiss VET Reform (Alexandra Strebel, Carmen Baumeler, and Sonja Engelage)
  • Neo-Corporatism and Collective Skill Formation: The Policy Network of Swiss Professional Training Organizations (Annatina Aerne and Patrick Emmenegger)
  • C. Interplay between Governance and Learning Arrangements
  • Presiding over the Education and Training Labyrinth: Governance as Shaping (Vocational) Education and Training Trajectories (Anna Mazenod)
  • Advanced Skill Formation between Vocationalization and Academization: The Governance of Professional Schools and Dual Study Programs in Germany (Lukas Graf and Anna Prisca Lohse)
  • Governance Mechanisms in the Institutionalisation of Upper Secondary Education in Switzerland. Insights from the Policy Debates on the Status of VET and General Education (Regula Julia Leemann, Raffaella Simona Esposito and Christian Imdorf)
  • Teams Were the Answer, but What Was the Question? Governance in the Danish Vocational Education System in the Wake of and Beyond Neoliberalism (Ida Juul)
  • D. Methodologies, Concepts, and Typologies of Governance
  • Regional Governance of Skill Supply and Demand: Implications for Youth Transitions (Oscar Valiente and Queralt Capsada-Munsech)
  • Typologies as a Tool to Assess Reforms in Vocational Education and Training Systems (Matthias Pilz)
  • Beyond Collective Skill Formation Systems? Governance and Coordination of VET as Part of Complex Education Structures (Lorenz Lassnigg)
  • Elucidating Responsiveness. Reviewing Empirical Methods for Comparative Studies of Governance in Vocational Education and Training (Jörg Markowitsch and Ralph Chan)
  • List of Authors
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Series index

Regula Bürgi and Philipp Gonon

Introduction: Governance Revisited. Challenges and Opportunities for Vocational Education and Training

In the past two decades, governance has become a central subject in vocational education and training (VET) research. Global trends, such as an ever-rising service economy, rapid technological change, and digitalization, challenge skill formation systems. They create a demand for new, more advanced and constantly changing skills. At the same time, skill formation systems are portrayed and promoted as solutions to the problems accompanying these developments, such as youth unemployment (Bonoli & Emmenegger, 2021; OECD, 2018). Both readings – be they a challenge or a solution – have led to a substantial number of publications examining different forms of VET governance globally (see Markowitch & Chan in this volume).

Since the 1990s, governance has generally emerged as a catchword in educational policy reform (Altrichter & Maag Merki, 2016). The term’s fast and widespread dissemination has been accompanied by a “fuzziness about its meaning” (Colebatch, 2014, p. 307). Governance signifies a specific mode of government (a normative model), a specific research perspective for the observation of coordination practices in multi-layered policy systems, or an encompassing classification for all modes of government (umbrella term). In the latter sense, governance is used to describe interaction models that range from hierarchical to decentralized forms. As such, governance refers to the coordination, management, or “steering” of social and economic actions. This use is currently the most prominent and also applies in the case of this edited volume (unless stated otherwise, e.g., in Section “New Governance”) (Colebatch, 2014, p. 12; Gonon et al., 2016).

This book builds upon the impressive and insightful stock of (VET) governance studies. Yet, as the title “Governance Revisited” suggests, ←9 | 10→the aim is to rethink and complement these research efforts, particularly with regard to regional, local, and decentralized governance at meso (e.g., professional associations) as well as micro level (e.g., learning arrangements). These important dimensions have hitherto been marginalized in VET governance research (Emmenegger, Graf & Trampusch, 2019; Strebel, Emmenegger & Graf, 2020). Initial studies have shown that VET governance varies substantially between branches or vocations as they develop a logic or culture of their own (Bürgi & Gonon, 2021). Classification systems in particular, such as the skill formation approach (Busemeyer & Trampusch, 2012), run the risk (as important as such typologies are) of leveling inter-country differences by assigning countries to one type of skill formation system. We assume that VET governance is more complex and, in particular, more hybrid than these neat classifications imply. Hence, the chapters in this edited volume show that governance is not adequately addressed by focusing only on regulations, actors, and their networks or coalitions. Governance is defined by culture, that is, specific (educational) concepts, local, regional, associational, or occupational styles of reasoning that determine what structures, measures, and policies matter and prevail (see Rosenmund, 2016).

For the contributions in this volume, it is key to address the nuances or heterogeneity of VET governance across and within (mainly) European countries. The chapters bring together different perspectives and approaches focusing on (educational) culture(s) and discourses, the vast variety of actors in VET governance, their specific interests, and the various learning sites. We have organized the contributions in four different sections, while acknowledging that there is no clear-cut line between them: (A) New Governance; (B) governance by professional associations; (C) the interplay of governance and learning arrangements; and (D) methodologies, concepts and typologies of governance. The different sections shed light on the hitherto far less explored dimensions of VET governance and highlight challenges as well as opportunities in VET governance in the 21st century.1←10 | 11→

A. New Governance

The term “governance” has different meanings. The contributions in this section focus on governance as a normative model implying a specific mode of government. In this context, normativity is often signaled by the epithet “new,” such as “New Governance” (Ball & Junemann, 2012) or “Neue Steuerung” in German discourse (Altrichter & Maag Merki, 2016). New Governance includes the ideas of decentralized, anti-hierarchical network structures, and quality assurance or monitoring systems that rely on standards and output measures (ibid.; Ball & Junemann, 2012; Colebatch, 2014; Langer, 2019). In other words, it intends to turn away from state-ruled “bureaucratic-hierarchical” (Hangartner & Heinzer, 2016) steering for the benefit of a decentralized, participative network, with “negotiations between actors equaling one another” (Altrichter & Maag Merki, 2016; Bolder, Bremer & Epping, 2017; Kuhlee, 2017; Langer, 2019, p. 28).

There are only a few studies examining the impact of this New Governance regime in VET. If the subject is put into the spotlight, the role of the state is central. Indeed, some studies – in line with the idea of New Governance – claim a loss of state significance for the benefit of decentralized actors (Bolder et al., 2017; in particular, Kuhlee, 2017). Others observe the paradoxical effect whereby, in the wake of New Governance, the authority of the state increases rather than decreases (Berner, 2013; Colebatch, 2014; Gonon, 2016). The authors of this book section open up new perspectives to this discussion by looking at New Governance processes not only from a national but also from an international as well as a regional perspective and by following up “long”(er) historical trajectories.

Svein Michelsen and Håkon Høst examine changes in governance and, in particular, monitoring in Norwegian VET policy on the ground. They conceptualize Norway as a hybrid system, consisting of statist, liberal, and – though weakly institutionalized – apprenticeship elements, which alter in strength and direction over time. The chapter shows how from the beginning of the 21st century, in the wake of New Governance, a new monitoring system (emphasizing quality, accountability, transparency, and networks) has been introduced in Norway. ←11 | 12→This new system has thus been framed by path-dependent developments, more specifically, by layering new governance patterns onto older structures. The authors draw an ambiguous conclusion: Indeed, they state that there is an increased tendency toward network governance on the one hand, but on the other hand, the authors identify that the state is striving to increase its political capacity and control at the central level. As a result, by predicting that the state has withdrawn, governance theory is – as the authors emphasize – misleading.

Christopher Winch provides an overview of England’s governance trajectory from the 1960s until the present and emphasizes, in particular, the introduction and impact of a tool going hand in hand with the New Governance discourse, namely New Public Management. He argues that England acts as a liberal market but – as it depends on a strong state regarding funding and provision of qualifications – not as a laissez faire economy. Drawing upon Hume, the author highlights the challenges that these state interventions encounter and concludes that without greater involvement of civil society, especially the active integration of trade unions and employer associations, the system is unlikely to succeed.

Nadine Bernhard focuses on the interplay between the international and national scale in the context of New Governance. She shows how the Europeanization of educational policies functions as a catalyst or window of opportunity for reduction of the robust segmentation of VET and higher education (HE) in Germany. More specifically, she argues that the intergovernmental processes of Bologna and Copenhagen have had an impact on German institutional permeability structures and that those agendas were broadening the meaning of permeability in Germany. Even though the adoption was selective, that is, not all European policy tools were adopted to the extent hoped for, she concludes that the changes in the German system would not have been possible without Europe.←12 | 13→

B. Governance by Professional Associations

Collective skill formation systems are characterized by high public commitment and a high degree of company involvement, be it with regard to financing, administration, or the content of training (Busemeyer & Trampusch, 2012). The latter is mostly coordinated through neo-corporatist institutions (i.e., intermediary or professional associations) that also underpin firms’ training provision (Strebel et al., 2020). Compared to the rich literature on skill formation and despite the importance of professional associations in collective skill formation systems, they (particularly those acting at sub-national level) have received little attention (ibid.; Emmenegger et al., 2019).

However, such a research focus is important given the assumption that collective action is getting more and more difficult. Globalization, deindustrialization, and digitalization provoke diversity and as such a challenge for collective governance (Bonoli & Emmenegger, 2021; Emmenegger et al., 2019). The heterogeneity makes it difficult for professional associations to agree on common interests and common skill profiles, provoking processes such as de-collectivization and segmentalism (though the EU actively supports the involvement of social partners in skill formation systems) (ibid.).

The three contributions in this book section shed light (looking from different perspectives) on the “inner workings” of professional associations. How and with whom do professional associations cooperate? What are the specifics, opportunities, and challenges of associational governance or of a neo-corporatist VET culture? The three chapters focus on Switzerland as a prototypical case of collective skill formation systems. In contrast to Germany, membership of firms in associations is voluntary in Switzerland, and there is no prescription regarding the type of organization (Emmenegger et al., 2019; Strebel et al., 2020). In consequence, the Swiss associational landscape is rather heterogenous, as are the associational modes of governance (Bürgi & Gonon, 2021). This heterogeneity and its implications are addressed in the three chapters as follows:

Regula Bürgi sheds light on how international New Governance discourse interacts with Swiss neo-corporative structures. Interpreting ←13 | 14→the Swiss VET reform in 2002 as a product of the New Governance regime, she focuses on the reactions of professional associations to these changes. The author argues that New Governance discourse inherently brings an added impetus to professionalize governance. Based on interview data, she shows that Swiss professional associations are challenged by a demand to professionalize – not least because most of them are, to a large extent, organized voluntarily. As such, the dynamic to professionalize governance tends to lower participation rather than – as foreseen in the New Governance agenda – strengthen it.

Alexandra Strebel, Carmen Baumeler, and Sonja Engelage examine how associations supporting small occupations (re)acted after the aforementioned Swiss VET reform in 2002 put their existence at risk. In more concrete terms, the authors trace which institutional work associations developed to deal with the demands of this reform and how the diverse outcomes can be interpreted. Based on institutional theories, the authors analyze and compare three small occupations: piano makers, weavers, and cable-car mechanics. By shedding light on the associations’ everyday work, they carve out strategies on regulative, normative, and cognitive levels used to create, maintain, or adapt occupations. Two key findings are highlighted here: Firstly, the authors reveal that the Swiss cultural tradition of apprenticeships supports the work of associations in general. Secondly, they show that success or failure is determined by an association’s (or its leader’s) institutional work, rather than labor market demands.

Annatina Aerne and Patrick Emmenegger address the paradox that neo-corporatist structures are generally considered as a condition for collective skill formation systems, yet Switzerland, as one of its most successful representatives, is a debated case of neo-corporatism. Therefore, the authors ask whether the governance network of Swiss professional training organizations mirrors neo-corporatist structures. Indeed, their analysis of a unique set of network and covariate data indicates that neither the network structure nor the characteristics of the professional training organizations feature neo-corporatist specifics. Is neo-corporatism hence not an essential part of collective skill formation systems? The authors’ answer to this question is “no,” as they assume that Switzerland may lack a neo-corporatist organization but has instead developed a strong neo-corporatist culture.←14 | 15→

C. The Interplay of Governance and Learning Arrangements

Governance is not only important on a macro level, but, especially in a globalized world, the linkage between the realm of work and schools has to be closer. On the one hand, this makes learning arrangements more complex because a lot of actors claim their often-diverse interests, but on the other hand, it includes different aspects of qualifications, which are needed (see Streeck, Hilbert, Kevelaer, Maier & Weber, 1987). In order to keep up with technological change and adjust learning sites to accommodate a more flexible system, new forms of governance should be taken into account in order to also organize vocational education and learning on a micro and meso level (Mirbach, 2004). New Governance has an impact at this level too. As such, it does not aim to regulate in detail the process of learning but rather to define outcomes and standards in order to flexibilize learning arrangements (see Rahn, 2009). Thus, the focus in regulation of learning sites or pathways is shifting more toward learning outcomes as a new form of VET governance (Lassnigg, 2012).

However, recent studies suggest that the interplay between workplace and learning has to be intensified. A possible answer is the provision of hybrid qualifications (see Bohlinger, Haake, Jørgensen, Toviainen & Wallo, 2019, p. 9). One of the drivers of challenging skill formation on a national (macro) level and its actual shape in a specific location seems to be the global division of labor and global supply of an educated workforce. Within a global context, skills and competences are tailored more toward the requirements of transnational companies (see Lauder, Brown & Ashton, 2017, p. 419).

Thus, not surprisingly, a commonality in most of the papers is a not always outspoken tendency to bring together different and even contradictory aims, that is, to hybridize structures and educational settings.

This section deals with the interplay of governance and learning arrangements. One fundamental question is how academic education and vocational education are intertwined and could be brought closer, in order to minimize the gap between practical and theory-based knowledge and learning. Thus, the way that VET is organized plays ←15 | 16→a role, either school-based or firm-based or if the actors deal with a hybrid structure. Established initial vocational training and the interplay with the field of HE is another challenge. Furthermore, technological changes periodically bring into question learning arrangements and the role of social partners in organizing VET, and they can lead to innovative and new forms of educational provision.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (October)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 432 pp., 5 fig. col., 8 fig. b/w, 19 tables.

Biographical notes

Regula Bürgi (Volume editor) Philipp Gonon (Volume editor)

Regula Bürgi is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Vocational Education and Training, University of Zurich. She completed her Ph.D. on the rise of international educational expertise at the University of Luxembourg. She is currently working on a project that focusses on governance processes in vocational education and training in Switzerland (funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation). Philipp Gonon is a professor of vocational education and training at the University of Zurich. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. from the Universities of Zurich and Berne, respectively.


Title: Governance Revisited
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