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Bordeaux Communiqué - European Vocational Education and Training policy (VET) - briefing

26 November 2008
by eub2 -- last modified 26 November 2008

On 25-26 November 2008, in Bordeaux, ministers responsible for vocational education and training (VET) of the EU Member States, the EFTA/EEA and candidate countries, the European Commission and the European Social Partners adopted the Bordeaux Communiqué which reviews the Copenhagen process on enhanced cooperation in VET.


1. What is vocational education and training?

Vocational education and training (VET) enables people to acquire knowledge, know-how, skills and/or competences needed for particular jobs, a broader range of occupations or more broadly on the labour market.

VET is independent of venue, age or other characteristics of participants and previous level of qualifications. It takes a variety of forms in different countries and also within a given country. It takes place at different levels of education, from secondary to higher education and training. Bridging learning in educational and workplace environments, it helps to make pathways more flexible and facilitates responsiveness to labour market needs.

VET is a key element of lifelong learning strategies. It is also important for personal development beyond the workplace supporting other aspects of people's lives and active citizenship. VET contributes to enterprise performance, competitiveness, research and innovation and is central to employment and social policy.

2. Why do we have a EU vocational education and training policy?

EU vocational education and training policy has a legal base in the Treaty. Article 150 (1) states that "the Community shall implement a vocational training policy which shall support and supplement the action of the Members States...".

The Lisbon strategy called for European education and training (E&T) systems to become a world quality reference by 2010. To achieve this, the EU formulated the "Education and Training 2010" work programme in 2001, which set the policy framework at EU level. VET policy is an integral part of the E&T 2010 work programme. EU policy work in VET is complemented by the "Leonardo da Vinci" (LdV) programme, which supports mobility and the modernisation of VET systems.

3. What is the Copenhagen Process?

The Copenhagen Process was initiated in November 2002 at a meeting in the Danish capital to agree a Declaration on enhanced European cooperation in vocational education and training (VET). This declaration responded to a request from the Barcelona European Council in March 2002 to take action in the field of vocational training, similar to that taken under the Bologna declaration in higher education. The declaration followed a resolution of the Education Council (November 2002) with the same purpose, which gives it its legal basis. The purpose of the declaration was to commit all stakeholders to the priorities and follow-up of the Council resolution.

4. Who participates in the Copenhagen Process?

The process involves all EU Member States, the European Commission, candidate countries (Croatia, FYROM, Turkey), EFTA-EEA countries (Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway), and the social partners (CES / ETUC, Business Europe, CEEP, and UAPME). FYROM does not yet participate in the process, but will do so as soon as it is also involved in the EU E&T strategy.

5. What is the purpose of the Copenhagen process?

The Copenhagen process is an integrated part of the Lisbon strategy in which VET must be developed to play its active and key role in furthering lifelong learning policies and supplying the highly skilled workforce necessary to make Europe one of the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economies and societies in the world. It aims to improve the quality and attractiveness of VET. The development of a true European labour market - an essential complement to the single market for goods and services, and the single currency - relies heavily on having a skilled, adaptable and mobile workforce able to use its qualifications and competences as a kind of 'common currency' throughout Europe. In this respect, the main aims of the Copenhagen process are the development of lifelong learning and the promotion of mutual trust between the key players.

6. How does the Copenhagen process work in practice?

To improve the performance, quality and attractiveness of VET in Europe, the Copenhagen process acts at four levels:

  • Political - the process plays an essential role in emphasising the importance of VET to political decision makers. It facilitates agreeing common European goals and objectives, discussing national models and initiatives, and exchanging good examples of practice at the European level. At national level, the process contributes to strengthening the focus on VET and has inspired national reforms.
  • Common tools - developing common European tools and principles aimed at enhancing transparency and quality of competences and qualifications, and facilitating mobility of learners and workers. The process paves the way towards a European labour market, and a European VET area complementary to the European area for higher education.
  • Mutual learning - supporting European cooperation and fostering mutual learning. It allows the participating countries to consider their policies in light of experience from other countries and provides a framework for working together, learning from others, sharing ideas, experience and results.
  • Taking stakeholders on board - the process strengthens the involvement of different stakeholders and enables their contribution to common goals.
7. What are the current priorities of the Copenhagen process?

Since the adoption of the Copenhagen declaration in 2002, the process has been reviewed in Maastricht (2004), in Helsinki (2006) and in Bordeaux (2008). At each of these meetings the Declaration identified priorities and objectives to guide VET policy development for the two following years.

The four objectives set in Bordeaux for the period 2009-2010 are:

  • Implementing the tools and schemes for promoting cooperation in the field of VET - with a particular focus on: i) establishing National Qualifications Frameworks on the basis of learning outcomes, ii) the European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training, and iii) the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework.
  • Heightening the quality and attractiveness of VET systems - by promoting the attractiveness of VET to all target groups, and by promoting the excellence and quality.
  • Improving the links between VET and the labour market - by i) Developing forward-planning tools focusing on jobs and skills in line with the Council Resolution on "New skills for new jobs", ii) Ensuring the involvement of the social partners, iii) Improving guidance and counselling (throughout life) to ease the transition from training to work, iv) Promoting adult training, in particular in the workplace, with special attention to SMEs, v) Developing validation and recognition of non-formal and informal learning outcomes, vi) Increasing mobility, and vii) Increasing the role of higher education in VET.
  • Strengthening cooperation arrangements - by i) Increasing the efficiency of mutual learning activities, ii) Strengthen linkages between VET, school education, higher education and adult training, and iii) Consolidating exchanges and cooperation with third countries and international organisations, such as the OECD, the Council of Europe, the ILO and UNESCO.
8. What has the Copenhagen process achieved since 2002?

There is a general consensus that the Copenhagen process has been successful, and that we have now reached a phase in which the focus should be on consolidating the strategy, and implementing the principles and tools that have been developed since 2002.

Technical working groups and expert groups have been established by the European Commission to develop common European references and principles aimed at supporting Member States' policies in the fields of quality, transparency and recognition of outcomes irrespective of whether they were acquired in formal, non-formal or informal settings.

Among the most important results achieved since 2002 which are directly relevant to citizens and enterprises, we can include the following:

  • Europass - a single framework for transparency of qualifications and competences - launched at a special conference under the Luxembourg Presidency on 31 January - 1 February 2005.
  • Council Resolution on strengthening policies, systems and practices in the field of guidance throughout life, which brings a coherent approach to this topic across education and training sectors at Community and national levels.
  • Council Conclusions on the "identification and validation of non-formal and informal learning" endorse a set of common European principles to help develop confidence and trust in this rapidly emerging sector.
  • Council Conclusions on Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training, which endorse a Common Quality Assurance Framework for VET providers and systems.
  • A Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a European Qualifications Framework (EQF). The EQF will relate different national qualifications systems to a common European reference framework.
  • In April 2008, a Commission proposal for a Recommendation on a European credit system for VET (ECVET).
  • In April 2008, a Commission proposal for a Recommendation on a European Quality Assurance Reference Framework (EQARF).
9. What is the EQF?

The European qualifications framework (EQF) was adopted by the European Parliament and Council on 23 April 2008.

The EQF will help to understand, "translate" and compare qualifications across countries. As education and training systems differ from country to country, this is very important when people want to take up learning or work in another country. It will make qualifications better legible to education and training institutions, employers, recognition and awarding authorities etc.

The EQF will cover all education sectors, general and vocational, and all education levels, including higher education. It will also help to compare qualifications of international sector-organisations.

The EQF is structured around eight levels and, for each of them, describes what people are expected to know, understand and be able to do. Describing skills that are needed on the labour market in line with the EQF levels could also make it easier to match the right people with the right jobs.

This focus on 'learning outcomes' affects all education and training sectors and levels. It makes countries rethink their qualifications, redesign curricula and develop new occupational and educational standards. Most European countries are developing qualifications frameworks (or revising them). National qualifications frameworks are moving to the forefront of the debate in many countries.

The EQF provides the opportunity to clarify the role of VET in relation to other forms of education and training and help to show its value.

10. What is ECVET?

A proposal for a recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a European Credit System for VET (ECVET) was adopted by the Commission on 9 April 2008. When implemented, this tool will support and promote transnational mobility and access to lifelong and borderless learning in VET, by facilitating transfer and accumulation of learning outcomes achieved by individuals. ECVET will be adopted by the Member States on a voluntary basis. It will be compatible with the existing European credit system (ECTS) used in the higher education sector. It is expected to be adopted by the European Parliament and of the Council in early 2009.

11. What is EQARF?

A proposal for a recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for VET (EQARF) was adopted by the Commission on 9 April 2008. It is designed to support Member States in promoting and monitoring quality improvement in VET at different levels. It provides a common basis for further development of quality principles, reference criteria and indicators. The application of this tool is also voluntary. It is expected to be adopted by the European Parliament and of the Council in early 2009.

12. What are the European instruments and programmes to implement the openhagen process?

Member States are encouraged to use the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund to support the development of VET. The EU structural funds support the key role of education and training in promoting economic development and social cohesion. Similarly, candidate countries have access to the pre-accession funds.

The Leonardo da Vinci programme is a key instrument to support the development, testing, and implementation of innovative actions to advance VET reform. It provides support for spreading innovation and good practice that would otherwise remain locked within national borders. The mobility action has a clear positive impact not only on the individuals involved, but also on the institutions with which they are involved. Over the whole programme period 2007-1013, Leonardo da Vinci has a budget of EUR 1,725 billion, representing 25 % of the total budget of the Lifelong Learning programme. In 2008 the LdV budget is EUR 256.7 million.

13. How does the Copenhagen process help reduce obstacles to mobility?

Despite the common features and developments, the diversity of VET within the EU can be an obstacle to mobility. The lack of mutual recognition of qualifications and competences is a major obstacle to mobility and to the development of a European labour market. Essential tools for improving mobility and thus developing truly European mobility are: the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), the Europass transparency framework for citizens, the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System for higher education (ECTS) and the European Credit System for VET (ECVET), together with more transnational placements financed under the EU Lifelong learning programme, namely Leonardo da Vinci. These tools have to be strengthened and widely implemented under the particular responsibility of countries and social partners.

Regular monitoring, evaluation and feedback are needed to measure progress and improve the effectiveness of measures. To promote a closer match between education and training supply and labour market demand, strong links between VET institutes and the world of work are required and should be complemented by European approaches for early identification of new and changing skill needs. Strengthening training for entrepreneurship can also reduce high failure rates among business start-ups and contribute to job creation.

14. How does the EU compare with third countries in terms of VET policies?

In Europe, there is a close association between graduation rates in upper secondary vocational streams and lower rates of early school leaving in many countries. Participation is higher than in the main competing countries worldwide and this is an important factor in reaching the target of keeping 85% of 18 to 22 year olds in upper secondary education by 2010.

Progression to higher education is not always easy, a factor that contributes to the smaller percentage of higher education students enrolled in VET courses in Europe than in its competitor countries in North America and Asia.

The high proportion of low skilled people in the EU means that much needs to be done for the EU to become the world-leader in high-quality human capital. The proportion of low-skilled and unskilled people in the EU is considerably higher than in competitor countries such as Canada, Japan, South Korea and the USA. These countries, and Australia have higher participation of adults in education, especially at tertiary level. Yet continuing vocational training is weak in many systems in the EU and participation rates are alarmingly low.

In most European countries, total per capita public expenditure is on a par with Australia, Canada, South Korea and the US, and higher than in Japan. Total private expenditure, including that by households, is much lower in Europe, with the exception of Germany and the UK.

15. How attractive is VET for Europe's young people at upper secondary level?

In many countries, initial VET has a long tradition dating back to the middle ages or at least to the industrial revolution. However, while initial VET is very strong in some countries, it has a relatively low status in others. Nature, role and status of VET depend on the individual socio-economic context of a country and often its regions as well as labour market characteristics.

But VET is evolving. In recent years, initial VET has undergone many reforms across Europe in terms of structure. This has been triggered by the increasing need to meet current and future labour market demands and to make the highly diverse VET systems and qualifications more transparent, effective and attractive.

At present, about half of all students enrolled in upper secondary education participate in vocational programmes. However, the EU average masks significant differences reaching from participation rates of almost 80% in some countries to less than 15% in others.

Chart 1: Students in upper secondary vocational streams as percentage of the total number of students in upper secondary education (ISCED 3), 2006
[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

Source: Eurostat (UOE), 2006

Based on the share of young people participating in upper secondary VET in Europe, the following picture emerges:

Table 1: Size of upper secondary VET in Europe based on participation rates

Above EU average
Below EU average

Large VET sector (participation rate higher than 65%)

VET sector larger than EU average
(participation rate below 65%)

VET sector smaller than EU average
(participation rate lower than 35%)

Small VET sector
(participation rate less than 35%)
Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Belgium, Netherlands, Slovenia and Finland; Liechtenstein and Croatia
Romania, Luxembourg, Italy, Germany, Sweden and Bulgaria; Norway and FYROM
Denmark, Malta, Poland, France, Spain, the UK, Latvia, and Greece;
Turkey and Iceland
Ireland, Portugal, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary and Cyprus

Between 2000 and 2006, participation in VET increased in 11 countries. Of these, Italy, Portugal and Malta - all having VET sectors smaller than the EU-average in 2000 - have had the highest growth rates (by more than 20 percentage points). In some countries with low participation rates in VET at upper secondary level, such as Hungary, initial VET is postponed to the postsecondary level. However, VET decreased in almost all Member States which joined the EU in 2004 or in 2007.

This means that there is considerable demand for people who opt for the VET route. As shown in a recent forecast by Cedefop, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 54.7% of 105 million job openings in total (the sum of expansion and replacement demand) are expected to require medium level qualifications by 2020. This is also more than those expected to require high qualification levels (40.9 %). For applicants with no or low levels of qualifications the projection is for less than 10% job openings.

16. Support for Mobility in Vocational Training: the Leonardo da Vinci Programme

Together with Comenius (school education), Erasmus (higher education) and Grundtvig (adult education), Leonardo da Vinci (LdV) is an integral component of the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007-2013, with an overarching priority to reinforce the contribution made by education and training to achieving the Lisbon goals of making the EU the most competitive knowledge-based economy, with sustainable economic development, more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

The LdV programme represents the largest single source of funding for mobility in the area of vocational training, specifically in initial VET. Other sources of funding exist at national, bi-national or multinational level, but it is not possible to establish reliable statistics of their activity. The same can be said of company-funded schemes.

Not less than 60% of funding granted within the LdV programme is used to finance mobility, and more specifically the strand 'young persons in initial vocational training': However with 51 000 young people in initial training funded in 2007, the coverage of the programme remains low compared to the total number of persons in IVET (1 % on average). Nevertheless it has to be pointed out that the numbers of IVET participants in LdV mobility have steadily increased since the year 2000, mainly due to growing budgets for the programme,

The report of the high level Experts Group on Mobility, which was endorsed by the Council conclusions on Youth mobility, advocates a significant increase of learner mobility in Europe. This is an objective which will need the support of all involved: the Commission, national authorities, regional or local communities and stakeholders. Mobility in VET has an important role in this respect.

16. Why are specific activities needed for the mobility of apprentices?

Presently, depending on the country, between 0.5 to 1.5 % of young people in initial vocational training have a mobility experience during their vocational training courses. The general objective is to significantly increase this percentage and to achieve the outcome that a mobility period in VET becomes a norm rather than an exception.

A specific form of training within initial vocational training are apprenticeships or alternate training schemes. Apprenticeship training refers to a structured plan of learning divided between the workplace and the vocational school or training centre. They are also called "work-linked training" or "alternate vocational training schemes", because the training alternates between school and workplace. A further characteristic of apprenticeship is the existence of a contractual relation between the workplace, i.e the enterprise, and the individual.

This form of work-based training has the advantage of having a close link to the labour market needs, but implies that mobility is often more difficult to organise.

The activities carried out under the specific budget line which was created on the initiative of MEP Mrs. Catherine Guy-Quint since 2005 had the objective to identify the obstacles and to find possible solutions to reduce these obstacles. The Conference held in Bordeaux on 27 November 2008 with the title "Apprentices: Paths of European Mobility" will take stock of the outcomes of the activities and discuss how concrete implementation can be achieved. Discussion will focus on the possibilities to set up sustainable support structures of quality, to organise the recognition of the mobility periods, to increase the visibility of the Leonardo da Vinci Programme and last but not least on complementary funding from other sources such as the ESF, national or regional funds.

Find out more:

European Commission: Vocational education and training:

Cedefop - European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training:

European Training Foundation:

Source: European Commission