Responsive Education: Technical And Vocational Colleges Within A Learning Region
Creating public value in dynamic regional economies: model and research questions
Socio-economic changes form a major challenge for technical and vocational colleges. They find themselves in a paradigm shift. In the light of developments in economy and society the national government asks the educational institutes to not only provide initial education – their usual working area - but also support lifelong learning and contribute to regional innovation (cf. Nieuwenhuis, Hoeve & Verhaar, 2003; Nieuwenhuis & Brown, 2009). In terms of Moore (1995) these educational institutes in dialogue create a new public value. This shift from an old towards a new paradigm, from the current to a new public value, leads to external and internal tensions for the colleges.
This study focuses on the role of school managers in this process. Questions for the management of technical and vocational colleges are: what will be the new public demands for our institute and how do we reach this ambition?
Central in this research project were the theoretical frameworks of Moore (1995) and Rosenfeld (1998). Moore developed a model starting with the creation of public value in societal systems (see also Alford & O’Flynn, 2009): what is the role of public managers in reaching societal goals? According to Moore ‘qualification‘ and ‘participation’ can be described as the expected public value of technical colleges. Recently two new public values were added: in the first place, ‘maintenance of expertise’: lifelong learning for workers or job seekers. Secondly, ‘innovation of professions and economical activities’. A key concept in Moore’s model is the license to operate. The government assigns a mandate to the board of the public institute, establishing governing rules and relations between managers and policy makers. The third concept is tools for effectiveness: what tools do managers use to enhance effective and efficient work procedures within their organisation, i.c. the college?
These three elements: public value, license to operate and tools for effectiveness, are connected to each other by different processes: steering, organizational processes and evaluation.
Given the new role of the educational institute in the region, Rosenfeld describes a set of criteria for the institute in order to achieve this. Among others: a mission with explicit attention for regional, economic development; an explicit focus on regional activities; an active strategy on developing networks; organizational flexibility and adaptability.
In this paper we will discuss the following research questions:
- Why and in what way is the public value of technical and vocational colleges changing?
- What does this mean for the position of technical and vocational colleges and what should managers take into consideration in decision making?
- What consequences does a new position have for networks, portfolios and internal capacity of the colleges?
To answer our research questions a multiple case study was carried out. Five technical and vocational colleges in the Netherlands volunteered to take part in the research project, because the management of these institutes is currently involved in the process of rethinking the future role of their college in their region. All colleges are active in the domain of agriculture, and geographically spread across the country: two colleges are based in a rural area, the other three in a more urban environment.
Data were gathered in the period April till December 2015. Data sources were: the analysis of relevant documents (such as strategic innovation plans, policy documents, annual reports), two rounds of interviews with representatives of the central management (i.e. a member of the Executive Board and the program officer for innovation) and a questionnaire.
During the data collection period four interactive sessions were organised in which theoretical and empirical input from the research was discussed with representatives of the management of the colleges. The minutes of this meetings were used in the data gathering and analysis process (additional data and validation).
The public value creation model of Moore served as a framework for further data analysis. The first step was to produce a thick description for each college. This description was organised around a number of central themes derived from Moore’s model: a) the public value creation process: the envisioned public value, future services for the region, strategic networks and b) internal capacity building.
After the with-in case analysis a cross-case analysis was carried out.
The main results of this study show in the first place a large variety in the ways to deal with changing external demands. Each of the five technical and vocational colleges makes their own choices regarding the future. We identified three possible scenarios for strategic decisions of technical colleges. In the first scenario the institute focuses on initial education, the current core business. In the second scenario the focus is on sectoral specialization: colleges chose their own core competence, according to regional, innovation demands. In the third scenario colleges focus on lifelong learning, enhancing the maintenance of expertise in their regional labour market.
The results also show, that choosing one of these scenario’s has huge impact on operational decisions: different scenario’s ask for different, corresponding network building and development of portfolio of services. Even more difficult is the internal capacity building and faculty building. A new strategy asks for new routines within the organization (both organisational, team-related and individual routines).
In the presentation we will give an account of the details of the scenario’s and positioning of the five cases in terms of ambitions in public value, networks and portfolio of services. Besides, we will present implications for internal capacity building and faculty building.
With the audience, we would love to discuss possible explanations for specific positioning, in order to discuss helpful scientific models to deal with these challenges.
Alford, J. & J. O’Flynn (2009). Making sense of public value: concepts, critiques and emergent meanings. In: International Journal of Public Administration, 32: 3-4, p. 171-191. DOI: 10.1080/01900690902732731
Moore, M. (1995). Creating Public Value - Strategic Management in Government. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Nieuwenhuis, L.F.M. (2002) Learning organisations for VET. In: Wim J. Nijhof, Anja Heikkinen & Loek F.M. Nieuwenhuis (eds.) Shaping flexibility in Vocational Education and Training. Institutional, curriculum and professional conditions for flexible VET systems. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic press.
Nieuwenhuis, L., A. Hoeve & C. Verhaar (2003). Networking between economy and education; regional knowledge transfer in Dutch agriculture. In: R. Rutten, F. Boekema & E. Kuijpers (eds). Economic geography of higher education. London/New York: Routledge
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Rosenfeld, S. (1998). Stock taking paper for the workshop ‘Technical colleges, technology deployment and regional development’. OECD international conference Modena on ‘building competitive regional economies’.
Rosenfeld, S. (2011). The changing form and geography of social capital. In: Cooke, Ph., Asheim, B., Boschma, R., Martin, R., Schwartz, D. & Tödtling, F. (eds.). Handbook of regional innovation and growth. Cheltenham UK/Northhampton MA: Edward Elgar.