Free Zones. A manifesto for future-proof economic vocational education in Rotterdam
Business and entrepreneurship are pivotal domains in economic vocational education. Given current labour market changes, also a renewal of their curriculum is needed. In 2020, a group of independent experts handed over a Manifesto to the management of Albeda and Zadkine (both schools for vocational education and training), Inholland University of Applied Sciences and Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. This Manifesto on economic vocational education contains seven recommendations that should ensure a future-proof improvement of this type of education in Rotterdam. Central is a plea for free zones with more room for renewing education, in which cross-border cooperation can take place between the VET-education and higher professional education and the business community.
The immediate reason for this Manifesto is a series of reports about labour market mismatches and the emerging imbalance between economic education and the change in production processes. The VET institutes and the Universities of Applied Sciences appear to be two different regulatory worlds and serve students with very different starting levels. At the same time, these schools are partly facing the same substantive challenges. One of these issues is how education institutes can work together in a new way, especially when it comes to the education, guidance and progress of students. Another question is how to make a good connection with the rapidly changing field of work due to digitalization and new dimensions of entrepreneurship, acknowledging that economic processes are prominent in all productive sectors.
The partners joined forces in 2019 and commissioned a think-tank of independent experts – with members from outside education – to explore the problem with a fresh perspective. This unique initiative across the borders of these schools processed large number of student data and organized round tables to collaborate intensively with students, teachers and business representatives.
In the Manifesto, the experts identify several main challenges for economic vocational education. Think of the too extensive drop-out of students in this domain, the changing labour market and the organizational speed in which educational programs can be developed. Due to the different (governmental) rules, educational innovations and feedback from business circuits emerges too much in isolation.
In response to the above mentioned challenges, the think-tank came to the conclusion that changes in economic vocational education are now necessary. The 23,000 students in economic vocational education in Rotterdam have an educational right to a good future perspective. In the Manifesto seven recommendations are made to the schools to come up with new ways of working to strengthen the content of economic vocational education. In doing so, the four schools and the business community are working together.
The core advice is to initiate so-called ‘free zones’ across VET and applied universities, between educational domains, and between school and the professional field. These free zones should serve as an innovative educational area with more degrees of freedom for curriculum renewal, funding and cross-border cooperation within and between the institutes of VET and the universities of applied sciences. This can result in a double degree for the student, across schools. For example, the finalization of a VET specialization then allows for an immediate step-up start in higher professional education. Also cross-overs between business studies and for instance technology or health care programs become possible. In some cases, companies can reward students’ learning outcomes too.
The think-tank also suggests to openly share data about the developments of the requested knowledge and skills in the market. This will be shaped in a joint regional data center to closely monitor both the future developments per sector and the incoming and outgoing of students in the Rotterdam area. In addition, management is encouraged to jointly assess the regional education offer in the light of the demand of the labour market and to consolidate the cooperation that has been initiated. Finally, it also calls on the government to take measures that promote the innovative capacity of education. Institutions must be able to develop licences for innovative vocational education programs and courses.
The schools appear to be inspired by the advice of experts; with the signing of this Manifesto they acknowledge their joint mission. For a transformation of economic vocational training, they will work together and aim to realize new ways of education in Rotterdam’s practice.
The members of the group of experts are: Ludo Baauw (CEO Intermax Group), Mai Elmar (director Cruise Port Rotterdam), Laamia Elyounoussi (managing director ‘Schone Zaak’), Miriam Hoekstra-van der Deen (director Airport Operations at Schiphol), Barbara Kathmann (Alderman for Economics in Rotterdam) and Marc van der Meer (Professor by special appointment on the labour market of teachers). The text of the Manifesto and the underlying background report can be downloaded from: https://www.hogeschoolrotterdam.nl/go/verkenning-toekomst-economisch-beroepsonderwijs-rotterdam/