Author(s):Susan Whittaker, Sheila Riddell (presenting), Ellen Boeren (presenting)

Conference:ECER 2017

Network:02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)


Session Information

02 SES 03 B, VET Governance, Institutions and Financing

Paper Session



Chair:Lorenz Lassnigg


Institutional Architecture Of Youth Training In The Context Of Welfare Regimes And Youth Unemployment

Following the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC), the European economic model has failed to provide an even recovery across countries and social groups, reflected in part in the increased youth unemployment rate in many EU countries (OECD, 2016). Around 20% of 15-24 year olds in the European youth labour force have been reported as unemployed, with variation between countries, including more than double that percentage in Spain, Italy and Greece (OECD, 2015). One of the government levers for attempting to reduce the impact of the repercussions of the GFC is through the maintenance, development and creation of opportunities for education and training for young people. Government policies and initiatives, partly driven by concerns about potential social unrest, aim to support the post-school transitions of different disadvantaged groups (e.g. school drop-outs, migrants, disabled young people). The international literature suggests that young people’s participation in post-school learning is influenced by contextual and individual factors, referred to as ‘bounded agency’ (Desjardins, 2017; Evans et al., 2013; Rubenson and Desjardins, 2009).  

It is evident that European countries differ with regard to participation in post-compulsory learning activities, as well as in youth employment rates and institutional structures designed to support post-school education and training.  Drawing on Esping-Anderson’s (1990) original welfare state typology and subsequent applications to the field of lifelong learning (Boeren, 2016; Holford et al., 2008; Riddell et al., 2012; Saar et al., 2013), this paper explores the political, economic and social factors leading to variations in post-school education and training in selected developed countries. 

Data are drawn from the EU Horizon 2020 ENLIVEN project, which, among other things, analyses the national institutional architecture and patterns of participation in post-school education.  Jurisdictions involved in the project represent the broad typologies of Esping-Anderson’s framework, including those which may be characterised as liberal (Scotland, England), conservative-corporatist (Flanders, Austria), familial (Italy, Spain) and social-democratic (Denmark). Countries reflecting the emerging lifelong learning and welfare regimes of Central and Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Estonia, Slovakia) are also included.  We acknowledge the limitations of welfare state typologies and the importance of national and regional diversity (Riddell and Weedon, 2012).  However, we believe that the application of welfare state typologies, alongside insights from bounded agency theory, enables us to develop a better understanding of national and regional variations in post-school provision, and the relative success of different approaches to meeting the challenges of economic and social insecurity accompanying globalisation.   The specific research question addressed in this paper is the following: How does the institutional architecture of post-school education and training vary in different national contexts, and how do these structures influence the possibilities and choices available to young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds?


We will report findings from an early component of the ENLIVEN project (funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme), the overall aim of which is to explore the role of adult learning policy regimes and institutional frameworks in enabling, or hindering, economic and social inclusion at the personal and societal levels. The project is exploring these issues in 10 EU countries/regions (Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, England, Estonia, Flanders, Italy, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain) and Australia. The findings are drawn from the work-strand exploring barriers to participation in youth education and training. We will report on the first stage of the research on the institutional architecture of the education and training systems for young people, including disadvantaged young people, through desk-based analysis of documentation (reports from CEDEFOP, Eurydice, OECD, European Commission, and national governments) and published statistics (Eurostat data), involving all partners.

Expected Outcomes

The findings will be comparative and theoretically situated in the literature on bounded agency and welfare state typologies, and will illustrate differing responses to the economic circumstances in different countries and welfare regimes. This project specifically aims to contribute to knowledge in relation to training provisions of young adults, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.


Boeren, E (2016) Lifelong learning participation in a changing policy context, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Desjardins, R (2017) Political economy of adult learning systems: Comparative study of strategies, policies and constraints, London: Bloomsbury
Esping-Anderson, G (1990) The three worlds of welfare capitalism, Cambridge: Policy Press
Evans, K, Schoon, I and Weale, M (2013) Can lifelong learning reshape life chances?, British Journal of Educational Studies, 61(1), 25-47
Holford, J, Riddell, S, Weedon, E, Litjens, J and Hannan, G (2008) Patterns of lifelong learning: Policy and practice in an expanding Europe, Vienna: Lit Verlag
OECD (2015) OECD Labour Force Statistics 2015, Paris: OECD
OECD (2016) OECD Employment Outlook 2016, Paris: OECD
Riddell, S, Markowitsch, J and Weedon, E (eds) (2012) Lifelong Learning in Europe: Equity and efficiency in the balance, Bristol: The Policy Press
Riddell, S and Weedon, E (2012) Lifelong learning and the wider European socioeconomic context in Riddell, S, Markowitsch, J and Weedon, E (eds) Lifelong Learning in Europe: Equity and efficiency in the balance, Bristol: The Policy Press
Rubenson, K and Desjardins, R (2009) The impact of welfare state regimes on barriers to participation in adult education: a bounded agency model, Adult Education Quarterly, 59(3), 187-207
Saar, E, Ure, O B and Holford, J (2013) Lifelong learning in Europe: National patterns and challenges, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar

Author Information

Susan Whittaker
University of Edinburgh
Sheila Riddell (presenting)
University of Edinburgh
Centre for Research in Educatoin Inclusion & Diversity (CREID), Moray House School of Education
Ellen Boeren (presenting)
University of Edinburgh