Vocational Education and Training in Eastern Europe: Transition and Influence


A number of the formerly communist countries of Eastern Europe joined the European Union in the mid 2000s, some fifteen years after the collapse of their socialist regimes. A further set of countries in the Western Balkans are moving towards EU membership. This paper examines the changes in their VET systems during this period of change.

The first section depicts the communist systems of VET, taking the mid-1960s as a time when there was a widespread belief that these economic and social systems were viable and could deliver social advancement and prosperity.

After the changes of 1989-92 the communist regimes fell and a period of political and economic turbulence ensued. At first the VET systems were little changed, but the second section of the paper shows how challenges to them arose, particularly as unemployment raised questions about how well the established VET arrangements were suited to the new flexible challenges of competitive productivity and flexible labour markets. A new sector of adult VET grew up, raising questions about whether and how it should be promoted, managed and regulated, and what its relationship with traditional VET schools should be.

Overlapping with this period of volatility, the countries applied for membership with the EU. The third section tracks how the EU brought pressure to bear on the countries to modernize their VET systems and to bring them in line with the various EU initiatives on education and training that emerged during the 1990s. In parallel a programme of development aid resulted in a series of projects which acted to import foreign expertise and ideas into the VET systems of Eastern Europe.
A final section surveys the systems as they stood at around 2010, outlining those features of the communist system which have survived or been adapted and those features which result from the pressures of economic transition on the one hand and influence from the EU on the other. This section also reflects on the process of change from a theoretical point of view.