Chapter 2. Governance of vocational education and training in Bulgaria

The chapter describes key aspects of governance and why it is so important. The governance of education is inherently complex. The governance of vocational education and training (VET) is particularly demanding, being linked to the allocation of tasks and responsibility both horizontally across governance levels and vertically between national and local levels. Effective governance demands strong social partner engagement and easy access to appropriate data on the performance of VET systems. The chapter assesses four main challenges linked to: decision making and capacity; using data and evidence to inform policy decisions; social partner engagement; and, steering adult VET learning provision. It further suggests policy responses and argues why these policies can be relevant, drawing on international evidence and experiences from other OECD countries.

    

The governance of VET

The complexity of VET governance and why it is so important

The governance of a VET system relates to the structure of VET, how it is operated and financed, as well as the system of quality assurance which underpins it. For the purpose of this review, governance is defined as the formal and informal arrangements that determine how decisions relating to provision are made, who makes them and on what basis (OECD, 2018[1]).

Effective VET systems are based upon governance mechanisms that carefully balance multiple interests. There is not one right form of governance model for education or for VET that can be implemented across all countries. Successful models can be substantially different and still lead to good outcomes (Burns and Köster, 2016[2]; ILO and UNESCO, 2018[3]). In an OECD study on the governance of education systems (Burns and Köster, 2016[2]), one of the main findings is that education systems across OECD countries have become increasingly complex due to several developments within society. Some of these relate to an increasing focus on the needs of individual learners. Data and information about the performance of education systems is also becoming more plentiful and an increasing number of stakeholders are involved in decision making. One of the most important responses to this complexity has, in many OECD countries, been to increase the autonomy and flexibility of local authorities to adapt provision to meet local demand (Burns and Köster, 2016[2]).

Drawing on conceptual analysis highlighting the interconnectivity of education systems in the context of unpredictable policy environments (Burns and Köster, 2016[2]), the OECD (Shewbridge, Fuster and Rouw, 2019[4]) has developed an analytical framework for strategic education governance. The framework consists of six domains and key areas that work as starting points for the analysis of national governance structures.

Table 2.1. Strategic education governance

Accountability

Promoting a culture for learning and improvement

Enabling local discretion while limiting fragmentation

Whole-of-system perspective

Overcoming system inertia

Developing synergies within the system and moderating tensions

Strategic thinking

Crafting, sharing and consolidating a system vision

Adapting to changing contexts and new knowledge

Balancing short term priorities with long term vision

Capacity

Ensuring capacity for policy making and implementation

Stimulating horizontal capacity building

Knowledge governance

Collecting quality rich data for research and decision making

Facilitating access to data and knowledge

Promoting a culture of using rich data and knowledge

Stakeholder involvement

Integrating stakeholder knowledge and perspectives

Fostering support, shared responsibilities, ownership and trust

Source: Adapted from Shewbridge, C., M. Fuster and R. Rouw (2019[4]), “Constructive accountability, transparency and trust between government and highly autonomous schools in Flanders”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 199, https://doi.org/10.1787/c891abbf-en.

Although the governance of VET is not separate from the governance of general education, VET systems’ close connection to the world of work makes it inherently different to govern (Oliver, 2010[5]). Building on the framework offered in Table 2.1, VET programmes need to respond to the complex and fast changing needs of the labour market and at the same time stay attractive to students and to society which funds provision. As well as delivering the knowledge and skills that employers demand and helping learners to get jobs, VET provision must also secure transferable skills that are not too firm-specific and deliver strong basic skills that provide students with the ability to adapt resiliently within a changing labour market (OECD, 2010[6]). Governance in strong VET systems, consequently, is one means to ensure that provision is of high quality and attractive to different stakeholders. To achieve this, a complex fabric of agencies are involved in the governance of VET, reflecting a division of responsibility between ministries, the relative autonomy of institutions and the close involvement of social partners (employers’ associations and trade unions) (OECD, 2010[6]). Taking into account the specific features of VET, the next section describes four important areas of VET governance.

Whole-of-government perspective

In many countries, the responsibilities for VET at a national level are shared across several ministries, most notably ministries for education and labour, as well as underlying agencies. With multiple organisations involved, however, risks emerge. Potential challenges can relate to a lack of coherence and co-operation on VET policy. One example can be linked to the risk of over-lapping VET qualifications without the possibility of transfer between programmes (OECD, 2010[6]). In cases where decision making is spread across several national authorities, it is important to ensure policy coherence (ILO and UNESCO, 2018[3]). One solution in ensuring policy coherence is to establish co-ordinating mechanisms at national and sectoral level to guarantee that VET policy and provision is unified (European Training Foundation, 2013[7]; ILO and UNESCO, 2018[3]). This has been the case in Israel, for example, where the responsibility for VET has historically been shared between two ministries. Israel has faced problems with uncoordinated governance, which led to a system that was difficult to navigate for students and also inhibited social partner engagement with implications for the quality and attractiveness of the provision. In such cases, an overarching steering body for the VET system would enhance the coherency, and so the quality, of the VET provision (Kuczera, Bastianić and Field, 2018[8]).

Balanced allocation of tasks and functions between governance levels

There is no right form of distributing tasks and functions between governance levels. Although increased local (regions, municipal or institutional) autonomy has been a trend across the OECD countries, countries still vary greatly in their governance arrangements and the degree of local autonomy. In the case of VET, given the need for provision to be responsive to the character of labour market demand which varies significantly geographically, the argument for providing local autonomy for some elements of decision making is strong. To ensure the labour market responsiveness of VET and so underpin regional growth, the European Training Foundation (ETF) (2013[7]) has, for instance, encouraged both a shared responsibility for VET between the national level and subnational level of government and significant autonomy at school level. Cedefop (2016[9]) highlights the need to balance the allocation of strategic and operational functions between the different levels of government. The national level should hold responsibility, it argues, for functions that are relevant for the whole VET system, such as strategic long-term planning and the definition of VET programmes, training standards and curricula. In this way, the national authorities can ensure that the VET qualifications are similar and can be utilised in the labour market across different workplaces and geographical areas. Standardised national assessment, moreover, ensures that the skills acquired during apprenticeship or other vocational programmes with a strong occupational focus are not too firm specific, and include relevant transferable skills (OECD, 2010[6]). In this way, governments can influence the flow of skills into, and within, an economy. The local level can be better placed to determine issues which need knowledge about local circumstances, such as establishing collaborations with employers to set up work-based learning for students, matching the number of school placements to the need for qualified VET workers and adapting the content of training as well as the equipment used (Cedefop, 2016[9]).

Engaging multiple social partners in VET design and delivery

Ensuring a strong involvement of social partners in determining VET policy and provision, either through consultation or directly within decision-making processes, characterises effective VET because it helps ensure that the design and delivery of provision reflects both labour market demand and the competing needs to be attractive to employers, prospective learners and to society (OECD, 2018[10]). Governments should construct effective mechanisms to involve social partners at each governance level where VET policy is being determined (European Training Foundation, 2013[7]; OECD, 2010[6]). Based on a study of governance systems in relatively high-performing VET systems in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria, Emmenegger et. al (2019[11]) helpfully identify six key areas of co-operation within VET (Table 2.1), illustrating the engagement of social partners in the core areas of decision making not only at the national level, but also at a sectoral, occupational and local level.

Table 2.2. Six key areas of co-operation in VET

Structure of VET

System development

Content definition

Operation of VET

Matching the demand and supply

Organisation of the training

Financing VET

Financing

System and quality control

Monitoring, examination and certification

Source: Adapted from Emmenegger, P., L. Graf and C. Trampusch (2019[11]), “The governance of decentralised cooperation in collective training systems: A review and conceptualisation”, Journal of Vocational Education & Training, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13636820.2018.1498906.

However, social partners involved need capacity to support the system. Building capacity among stakeholders (which serves a public purpose in helping to ensure the quality of VET provision) can be a key issue with actors potentially needing help to acquire and make use of relevant information to be able to contribute effectively to policy implementation (Burns and Köster, 2016[2]).

Ensuring quality by making sure that decisions are appropriately informed by evidence

Finally, as in any aspect of governance, decision making in VET policy needs to be based on consideration of relevant and timely evidence by people with informed understandings of the issues at play. Governments and other decision makers within the delivery chain need appropriate information to be able to steer the system. Data on the outcomes of VET as well as institutional capacity to analyse and disseminate data need to be available. Many countries have established VET research centres which fulfil a specific role in collecting and disseminating information (OECD, 2010[6]).

Governance of VET in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic. The National Assembly holds the legislative power and the head of state is the president, who is directly elected. The Council of Ministers (the government) is chaired by the prime minister, who is nominated by the largest parliamentary group. The president gives a mandate to the prime minister to form a cabinet (European Commission, 2015[12]).

The Ministry of Education and Science is largely responsible for policy making of VET, its co-ordination and implementation. The Ministry for Labour and Social Policy also participates in implementing VET policy, mainly related to adult training provision (Cedefop, 2018[13]).

The National Agency for Vocational Education and Training (NAVET) is a body placed under the responsibility of the Council of Ministers. NAVET has two main responsibilities. It co-ordinates the process of developing and maintaining VET qualifications in accordance with a national framework and is responsible for licensing and conducting inspections of Bulgaria’s VET adult learning centres that provide formal and non-formal training for people older than 16. The agency reports directly to the Council of Ministers, while the Ministry of Education and Science assigns its budget and approves some aspects of the work that the agency undertakes (Cedefop, 2018[13]).

Bulgaria has one subnational level of government, which consists of 265 municipalities. There is also a central government territorial administration composed of 28 regions, overseen by regional governors who are appointed by the national government (OECD and UCLG, 2016[14]).

The social partners are consulted in VET policymaking at both the national and the regional level.

The majority of VET schools are owned directly by the Ministry of Education and Science, while the municipalities are also responsible for some schools. In addition, there is a small number of private schools in Bulgaria (Cedefop, 2018[13]; European Commission, 2014[15]).

Decision-making structure and capacity

Challenges in the governance of the Bulgarian VET system

In order to increase the labour market responsiveness of vocational provision, Bulgaria is in the process of increasing decision-making autonomy at a local level in relation to the operation of VET

Bulgaria has been through a significant process of decentralisation of power to the municipalities. This began at the start of the 2000s and further increased following EU accession in 2007. Bulgaria can still be characterised, however, as currently having a relatively centralised governance structure (OECD and UCLG, 2016[14]). In a review of eleven countries, including Bulgaria, the OECD (Froy and Giguère, 2010[16]) looked into the governance of three interconnected policy areas: employment, economic development and vocational training. At the time of the study, the degree of policy co-ordination in these areas was perceived to be low in Bulgaria. Further, the OECD described a lack of flexibility at the local level to adjust or alter programme content within VET. The stakeholders’ capacities to be involved in VET was regarded as limited. In the case of funding, the municipalities were perceived to lack capacity with regard to financial management and accountability structures were seen as weak, which led to a dependence on central government to allocate resources (Froy and Giguère, 2010[16]). Since joining the EU, Bulgaria has received considerable funds to partner with regions in delivering policy, influencing new approaches to decentralisation (Froy and Giguère, 2010[16]).

Over the last decade and in response to concerns over the responsiveness of VET provision to labour market needs, the Bulgarian authorities have taken explicit steps towards increasing the role of the municipalities and regions in VET provision (Vogel, Spithoven and van der Sanden, 2018[17]). This has included an increased role in tasks such as planning of the VET student intake, setting staff salaries and equipping VET schools (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, 2016[18]; Cedefop, 2018[19]). However, considerable decision making relevant to the day-to-day running of VET schools is still being made at a national level. During interviews that the OECD review team conducted with authorities and stakeholders, Bulgaria’s centralised governance structure in VET was a recurring issue with concerns highlighted over the lack of capacity at the local level to make decisions on the operation of VET.

The capacity of the Ministry of Education and Science to oversee an overarching strategy for VET is compromised by its lack of capacity

The Ministry of Education and Science is responsible for a broad range of issues, such as determining and implementing national education policy, developing educational programmes and analysing and overseeing the results and efficiency of provision. Echoing concerns raised during the OECD review visit, the European Commission (2018[17]) has questioned the sufficiency of resources focused on VET issues, specifically linked to the analysis and use of labour market information in the process of renewing VET qualifications (Eurydice, 2018[20]; Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, 2016[18]).

The example is illustrative. Bulgaria is continually in the process of renewing the VET qualifications to better match them with labour market needs, in addition to improving the methods on how to do it on a regular basis (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, forthcoming[21]). Currently, the ministry initiates the annual renewal process and oversees the work of NAVET. Renewal itself includes procedures to regularly update the three main documents which steer VET provision from a national level: the List of Professions in VET (LPVET), the State Educational Standards (SES) and the curricula. Collectively, these documents determine VET qualifications and programmes of learning. The ministry is responsible for approving the LPVET, adopting the SES and developing the curricula. Branch ministries (the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Health), NAVET and social partners participate in these processes (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, 2016[18]).

The LPVET includes around 200 professions and 500 specialities. For each profession, a SES is developed. VET provision locally needs to be set in accordance to the SES, which contains detailed standards. This includes detailed descriptions of learning outcomes, work activities, working conditions, equipment and tools, training objectives and requirements for material resources for the theoretical and practical part of the training. For each SES, a curriculum is developed. According to the latest amendments in the VET Act in November 2018, the Bulgarian authorities aim to update curricula every five years (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, forthcoming[21]). According to the European Commission (2018[17]), while there are some overlaps between current and previous documents, the new SES being developed are more detailed than in the past. Such a development can be expected to have implications for the capacity of individual providers to respond to local labour market needs (Vogel, Spithoven and van der Sanden, 2018[17]).

Further, the ministry monitors and approves a wide range of activities within all types of schools. The ministry approves the use of curricula to be used locally, admission plans for both the municipality and state schools, allocates and controls the use of financial resources (for example the supply of textbooks) and ensures implementation of innovative practices (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, 2016[18]; Eurydice, 2018[20]).

During the interviews with the OECD, several representatives described how the ministry undertook too many detailed tasks, especially related to monitoring and control, whilst raising concerns in terms of capacity and competence gaps to undertake key tasks relating to VET: for example, analysing the performance and efficiency of VET, updating the SES and designing curricula (Vogel, Spithoven and van der Sanden, 2018[17]). A challenge is that the ministry can become preoccupied by conducting many administrative and organisational tasks, while having less time to work on an overall vision for the development of the system. Approving the budgets and local documents for hundreds of VET schools is time consuming. By comparison, such reviews are undertaken in fewer programmes and in greater depth each year, as is the practice in some other OECD countries. For instance in Norway, the sectoral bodies consisting of social partners review the VET occupations every four years (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2017[22]).

NAVET has a limited capacity which can have consequences for its ability to undertake its responsibilities in a reasonable manner

NAVET has two main tasks. First, under guidance from the Ministry of Education and Science its role is to define and update the list of VET professions, and second to license and conduct inspections of VET adult learning centres and vocational guidance centres (Cedefop, 2018[13]). Resourcing of such responsibilities appears to present a challenge for NAVET (Vogel, Spithoven and van der Sanden, 2018[17]). During interviews, concerns were particularly raised over NAVET’s responsibility to license and inspect the numerous adult learning centres. The large number of institutions combined with a general perception that the quality of the provision is highly variable, makes lack of capacity a particular concern. The process of reviewing the LPVET was also considered to be resource demanding.

Adult learning VET centres provide training for people over 16 years old. Most centres are private, but a few are state-owned. Vocational guidance centres are state, municipal and private, and provide career guidance to all learners. These two types of centres have to be granted a licence to operate, which is issued by NAVET. The centres are also obliged to report annually to NAVET about their work, completing an annual self-assessment report about the quality of their services, according to indicators set by NAVET (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, 2018[23]).

NAVET handles, moreover, the processes of reviewing the 200 VET qualifications and 500 specialities, which is done in close collaboration with employers, unions and relevant government ministries. The national authorities aim to update the LPVET and the specialities yearly to increase their labour market responsiveness. The Ministry of Education and Science approves the result. There are delays in the system, for instance due to lack of resources or difficulties in finding social partner representatives with the right competences who can invest their time in this process. Delays in the approval process are common.

Both regions and municipalities are involved in VET governance with tasks mostly linked to implementation and control

Bulgaria has 28 regions which work on behalf of the central government. Within each region, there are several institutions involved in VET policy with responsibilities related to the planning, organisation, co-ordination and control functions of schools within the region. The regions are in charge of conducting inspections of the schools on behalf of the ministry (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, 2016[18]). The regional administration also takes part in the implementation of employment policy, while units directed by the Ministry of Education and Science implement national policy at the regional level through projects and programmes (Cedefop, 2018[13]).

The 260 municipalities implement national policy, but are to a limited degree included in the VET governance structure. The municipalities are responsible mainly for two tasks in relation to VET. This is to make sure that both vocational career guidance and VET training match skills needed in the labour market. In the absence of data on the outcomes of VET, as well as lacking structures to engage with social partners, it is however unclear how this is done in a reasonable manner. In addition, they are in charge of the funding of school buildings, including the equipment used in VET workshops (Cedefop, 2018[13]; Eurydice, 2018[20]). In this way, both the regions and the municipalities are to a limited degree involved in making decisions about the delivery of VET to learners.

Policy message and arguments: Consider implementing greater autonomy at a subnational level, while strengthening quality assurance

Policy message

Bulgaria can consider:

Building up the capacity of lower levels of government and/or schools, and further increasing their autonomy so that they can make the right decisions concerning VET issues. By doing so, decision making about VET provision can better reflect local circumstances and capacity can be released at a national level, allowing the national authorities to focus more on strategic issues and assuring the quality.

More autonomy and flexibility delegated to local actors can free up resources for national authorities, but requires capacity building

As stated above, there is no one right governance model for VET. A strong central government can efficiently and effectively maintain a system-wide understanding, trigger and steer policy change, develop strategies and ensure access to information (Burns and Köster, 2016[2]). At the same time, regional differences can be considerable and the central level can lack capacity and information about local conditions. Overly prescriptive or excessively detailed standards set nationally are inherently harder to adapt towards the needs of the local labour market (European Training Foundation, 2013[7]). Decentralised governance structures can have advantages in serving to encourage diversity and innovation within professional standards provision, but it can lead to unacceptable differences in practice between regions, involve duplication of work which ultimately increases costs to the public purse and complicate transitions for students (OECD, 2010[6]).

There is great variation across OECD countries in how they distribute tasks across governance levels (Box 2.1). Within the spectrum of governance approaches, Bulgaria is currently relatively centralised and there are arguments for allowing more local autonomy and flexibility. Within this, an important question is whether the authorities are spending their resources on the right tasks. While relatively few people work on VET issues at the national level, the ministry spends substantial parts of its resources on detailed tasks relating to monitoring VET schools and approving their work. The majority of VET schools in Bulgaria are owned by the ministry and this leads in practice to responsibilities related to the approval of institutional budgets and plans for student learning. It is reasonable to question whether such responsibilities could not be better exercised closer to their delivery.

The OECD (Froy and Giguère, 2010[16]) has previously argued, with regard to Bulgaria, that “awarding greater flexibility incrementally to those local areas that have proven capacity to deliver is one possible path, while building trust between national and local actors will also be crucial.” These arguments, suggesting enhanced subnational capacity building and accountability mechanisms, seem still applicable in the case of VET. Equipping local actors with more autonomy to make certain decisions by themselves can ultimately be more cost-efficient as quality, in terms of the better match of skills delivered by schools and demanded by employers, grows. By consequence, the national authorities can increase their capacity to focus on further developing the VET system, defining learning content, assuring quality and monitoring outcomes. From the point of view of this study, Bulgaria has several options.

One option deserving serious consideration would be for Bulgaria to transfer the ownership of state-owned schools to the regional level. Improving the regional level capacity and capabilities can be a first step towards releasing capacity nationally. The regions also have the advantage of being closer to local circumstances which can have added value for the quality of the provision.

A further option is to increase the autonomy of municipalities. The national level is currently responsible for detailed regulations on what schools can do (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, 2018[23]). Increasing autonomy would allow municipalities much greater freedom in decision making. The municipalities which have proven to be accountable can take over the ownership of state owned VET schools. Risks to provision can be mitigated by requiring municipalities to prove their capacity for greater self-governance. Greater autonomy can be granted where it has been earnt.

And lastly, building up the capacity of VET schools to make decisions on their own represents a third option. The same rule as for the municipalities could be applied at an institutional level – with schools earning their autonomy. When accountability mechanisms are in place, schools with local flexibility, able to decide on curricula and assessment, generally tend to perform better than systems without such local autonomy (OECD, 2013[24]). Success depends, however, on many factors, such as administrative capacity and leadership skills, in addition to support from higher levels of government (Dyer and Rose, 2005[25]). Local schools might be better placed to organise the training and matching demand and supply, for instance by setting up an institutionalised co-operation to consult the local labour market on both the content of provision and the number of school admissions. In Germany, for example after discussion with social partners, VET schools are given the opportunity to adapt between 15% and 20% of national curricula to meet local economic needs. Such discretion demands that local actors have sufficient capacity to be able to take action according to the information that they receive (ILO and UNESCO, 2018[3]). However, as recent OECD (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[26]) analysis of VET provision in Sweden has highlighted, high levels of school autonomy, particularly when combined with market incentives, run risks of becoming misaligned with local demand. Institutions can avoid provision that is more expensive or less certain of securing student numbers. Challenges can arise, moreover, in terms of engaging employers and other social partners in supporting programme delivery.

Increased autonomy at the local level requires a stronger national quality assurance system

Strengthening capacity and implementing increased autonomy and flexibility at the local level should not be done in isolation. Autonomy at the local level needs to be accompanied with quality assurance, guidance and dialogue (ILO and UNESCO, 2018[3]). It demands, moreover, alignment with national policy goals. If this is a pathway Bulgaria chooses to follow, there is a need to build up a system to assure quality of the VET system. The national authorities need confidence that what is happening at the local level is in accordance with national policy. Information and data about the outcomes of VET is an important aspect of a quality assurance system. The OECD welcomes Bulgaria’s current plans and efforts in building up its quality assurance system (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, forthcoming[21]). In this work, Bulgaria will need to take steps in terms of quality standards, ensuring that clear objectives are shared among the main stakeholders in VET and outcomes are monitored. Assuring quality in the system is important and should be prioritised. This function nationally can be overseen by the ministry itself or transferred to an autonomous national body with responsibilities for implementation managed at a regional level.

Quality standards can, for instance, be set through a standardised national assessment framework that underpins consistency. Such standards assure that qualifications do not vary locally, but are transferable across the country. They can assure, moreover, that competences are not too firm specific. This can make it easier for students to move between different employers and regions while still holding a relevant qualification (OECD, 2010[6]).

For Bulgaria, increased local autonomy also means to a larger extent moving from monitoring input variables through, for instance, setting detailed regulations with which schools and municipalities need to comply, towards building accountability by promoting a culture of continuous improvement through professional development, peer learning and reviewing outcomes (Shewbridge, Fuster and Rouw, 2019[4]). The role of national authorities in such a context is primarily to provide local actors with support and guidance to enable the delivery of quality results.

Box 2.1. Variety in multi-level governance of VET across a selection of OECD countries

Across OECD countries there has, over the recent decades, been a general tendency towards decentralisation within education (Burns and Köster, 2016[2]). When it comes to VET, there are different governance arrangements in the relative autonomy of subnational levels of government, the degree of school autonomy and how the social partners are involved. Busemeyer and Trampusch (2011[27]) show variety in skills formation systems in advanced industrial democracies through four broad categorisations, depending on the level of public commitment and employers’ involvement in VET. These are systems which are: i) market driven; ii) segmented; iii) state driven; and iv) occupation driven. Typically school-based systems such as Bulgaria will fall into the state driven category, while countries with strong apprenticeship provision would be seen as occupation driven. As these categories are broad, there are still great variances in how national VET systems are governed and where decision making is placed at each level.

The occupation driven VET systems of Austria, Germany and Switzerland are confederations or federal systems with strong autonomous regional authorities. The regions are responsible for VET schools and levels of school autonomy vary across the regions. As for Denmark, the VET system is also occupation driven, with high degree of local school autonomy in decision making (Dibbern Andersen and Kruse, 2016[28]).

In Norway, the 18 regional authorities are responsible for providing upper secondary education, including VET. Within a legal framework, the regions have high levels of autonomy in making decisions on the VET provision, such as planning school admissions and creating local curricula (Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU), 2016[29]).

The 290 municipalities in Sweden are responsible for upper secondary and adult education. About one-third of the school provision at the upper secondary level is private (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[26]).

France has, in general, been considered to be centralised in education policy, even though the local level lately has played a larger role in governance, such as managing school buildings and overseeing supply of educational materials (European Commission, 2018[30]).

The Czech Republic has, since 2014, placed more emphasis on decentralisation by giving both regional authorities and schools greater autonomy to decide VET policy. The regions are self-governing and are responsible for the VET schools. They create a long term plan for the development of education and then report on its progress. The schools are relatively autonomous to prepare and implement local curricula within nationally set constraints. They are also responsible for the quality of pedagogical work, they decide on the place where practical training is provided (either in a school workshop or in a workplace), set up admission procedures and ensure an efficient use of financial expenditure (Kaňáková, Czesaná and Šímová, 2016[31]; Kuczera, 2010[32]).

In the Netherlands, secondary VET schools have a high degree of local autonomy. The schools are in full control of staffing, the programmes that are offered, organisation of learning and the co-operation with social partners. Autonomy also applies to the allocation of funding, and Dutch schools are granted a lump sum from the Ministry of Education (Smulders, Cox and Westerhuis, 2016[33]).

Using data and evidence to inform policy decisions

Challenges: There are weaknesses related to collecting and making use of data and evidence within policy decisions

In external assessments of the Bulgarian governance in VET, a recurring challenge within the quality assurance system relates to access to, and use of, data and evidence to inform policy decisions. Making use of data about the outcomes of VET is one key aspect of assuring quality (OECD, 2010[6]). The OECD has previously recommended that greater resources be allocated for data analysis (Froy and Giguère, 2010[16]), while the World Bank highlights that while important system performance data is collected in Bulgaria, it is not being routinely analysed. Bulgaria lacks moreover, the World Bank argues, a system for evaluating and monitoring provision (World Bank, 2014[34]). Bulgarian authorities also raise concerns about their ability to assure the quality of VET in a systematic manner. In their mid-term VET strategy, the Ministry of Education aims to establish an improved quality assurance system by 2021 (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, forthcoming[21]).

Out of the 28 EU member countries, 24 countries have now implemented some form of VET graduate tracking processes. Bulgaria is one of the countries to date which has not introduced such a means of monitoring the outcomes of its VET system. Plans are, however, under development to introduce graduate tracking (European Commission, 2018[35]). The OECD team understands that the authorities in Bulgaria collect quite detailed information about the employment outcomes of individuals in relation to their educational experiences, including participation within VET. The challenge remains to systemise use of such data, analyse it, make it publicly available and ensure that it is considered within relevant policy decisions at national, regional and local level.

In addition to a lack of data, little research is apparent in Bulgaria relating to VET. Although the VET system has undergone substantial reforms over recent decades, few evaluations have sought to understand the results of past change in order to inform future reform processes (Vogel, Spithoven and van der Sanden, 2018[17]).

Policy message and arguments: Collecting and using data and evidence

Policy message

Take steps to improve access to data and evidence on VET, ensuring capacity to make effective use of it to inform policy decisions is available at all governance levels.

Investing in mapping existing data on the outcomes of VET and making it available is crucial in order to steer the system - for Bulgaria this can be a quick win

Data about the outcomes of VET is valuable for many purposes. Information about job prospects can be useful information for students who are considering entering VET. (Musset and Mytna Kurekova, 2018[36]). Data about student characteristics and the character of provision (for example, the quality and duration of work-based learning) can enable deeper understanding of the drivers of institutional performance and individual outcomes. With access to data, government can monitor the employment situation of VET graduates which can provide insight into whether VET provision in specific occupational areas is in line with labour market needs (European Commission, 2018[35]). This is important information for the social partners when they are being consulted in the process of changing and updating VET provision. At the local level, data on the outcomes of VET along with close co-operation with the social partners provides important information to inform decisions about the number of school admissions each year.

Countries can use different approaches in tracking VET graduates. Measures can be implemented regularly and at national or regional levels (European Commission, 2018[35]). Broadly speaking, data on the outcomes of VET is collected from surveys sent to the VET graduates some years after completion of the training. Further, countries track individuals in their transitions from training to work through government records (OECD, 2010[6]). Usually countries would have to consult several records relating to the education and employment circumstances of an individual in order to gain a comprehensive picture. In many countries across the EU, a combination of these methods is commonly used in the tracking of graduates (European Commission, 2018[35]). Although Bulgaria does not have a VET graduate tracking system, the country does have access to quite detailed information about both students and graduates that can form a basis for a graduate tracking system. According to interviews that the OECD team undertook, students are tracked through educational pathways, but within several different registers or databases which are not combined. Such data are not comprehensive. Gaps exist, for example, at a national level for students sitting exams for final VET qualifications by speciality, school and geographical area. However, considerable data do exist. The National Social Security Institute has access to information about VET graduates working on fixed-term contracts that is collected through employers. The possibility exists to combine these data sets, and follow the students through the journey from education to work. This is an approach which has recently been undertaken in England (United Kingdom) through the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) database (Patrignani, Hedges and Conlon, 2018[37]). The better availability of data, however, demands a more systematic approach to the public consideration of evidence in national and local policy decision making. Systemising and improving access to the data and monitoring outcomes, therefore, can be a relatively quick win for the Bulgarian government. The fact that Bulgaria is currently exploring the opportunity to develop a way to track the outcomes of VET graduates is to be welcomed (European Commission, 2018[35]).

Making sense of VET evidence at a national level

Many OECD countries have established VET research centres with responsibilities related to conducting research and analysis on VET and labour market issues. Centres in some cases are also responsible for the development and implementation of aspects of VET policy (OECD, 2010[6]). Examples of such centres include KRIVET in South Korea, BIBB in Germany, SFIVET in Switzerland and NSZFI in Hungary (see more about the responsibility of NSZFI in Box 2.2). Such centres are usually placed under the responsibility of ministries of education. Countries without such centres commonly rely on external research units or internal capacity within the ministries to undertake research and analysis on VET (OECD, 2010[6]).

There is significant potential to build up such research and data analysis capacity at a national level in Bulgaria. One opportunity would be to do this within the existing structure of NAVET. As the agency is not responsible for such tasks today, competences would need to be built up. In conducting its current tasks in renewing the list of professions and maintaining educational standards, the agency itself needs access to more data and evidence on labour market outcomes of VET. Building up capacity can therefore also strengthen NAVET’s ability to deliver on its existing tasks.

Box 2.2. VET research centres in Hungary

The National Institute of Vocational Education (NIVE) was established in 1990 and its successor is the Hungarian National Institute of Vocational and Adult Education (Nemzeti Szakképzési és Felnöttképzési Intézet, NSZFI), which was established in 2007 following the integration of four separate VET institutes. It is a government-funded research centre which also has an active role in VET policy development and implementation and the co-ordination of VET research and services. It also raises funds through its commercial activities (maximum 20% of its total budget). Its main tasks are diverse and encompass: i) developing examination and teaching materials; ii) managing the Labour Market Fund’s Training Subfund raised through training levies and other smaller VET development funds; iii) evaluating vocational training institutes; iv) disseminating best practices; v) collecting VET data and managing the resulting database; vi) organising training for vocational teachers; and vii) accrediting adult training institutions. In order to support these diverse activities it employs more than 200 people and commissions research projects (OECD, 2010[6]).

Social partner involvement

Challenge: The foundations for social partner involvement seem strong, but co-operation can be expanded and capacity to engage increased

Bulgaria has developed a strong foundation for social partners’ involvement at a national level, but institutionalised co-operation is concentrated in few areas

Bulgaria has in recent years built up a system to involve employers and trade union representatives in some aspects of VET policy making. The institutionalised co-operation between the social partners and government on VET is mediated first and foremost through NAVET and is focused on the topic of revising the professions and suggesting new ones. There exists a separate body where government and social partners meet to discuss overall issues related to employment, the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation. In 2018, a new advisory body for VET was established, the Advisory Council for Vocational Education and Training. The mandate of the body is to assist the Minister of Education and Science in the implementation of the state policy on the reform of secondary VET (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, 2018[38]).

Co-operation, however, is overwhelmingly set at an overall national level. Both sectoral and decentralised co-operation between social partners and authorities is very limited. This is a matter of concern. The demands of different economic sectors for skills vary significantly and change over time as well as across localities. The role of social partners is essential within effective VET provision because it helps enable provision to become and remain attractive to employers, prospective employees and to society more broadly. What it means to be attractive by occupational area can vary significantly (OECD, 2018[10]).

In Bulgaria, there is potential to strengthen co-operation with social partners. At the regional level, social partners are consulted, but the advisory bodies where this takes place are not VET specific, and the regions play a marginal role in ensuring a close contact between the labour market and schools. Co-operation between social partners and VET schools is not institutionalised and varies considerably. While schools and employers collaborate on work-based placements for students, and schools are expected to have a good understanding of employer needs (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, 2016[18]), provision can be distorted by the dominant role of large employers. Provision needs to reflect and be relevant to the breadth of the related labour market.

Challenges in co-operation with social partners appear to be linked to capacity

Although the foundation for involvement of the social partners seems to be in place, the workload is large and questions are apparent about the capacity of the stakeholders involved. As stated above, the work of social partners in reviewing the over 200 VET qualifications and 500 specialisations to improve labour market relevance is time and resource demanding. The Bulgarian government has itself questioned the capacity of the social partners, and introduced measures to improve their capacity as part of its ambition to enhance the quality assurance system of VET (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, forthcoming[21]). Ensuring the availability of appropriate candidates to take part in co-operation was raised as a particular concern during interviews that the OECD team undertook. This is not an unfamiliar challenge across the OECD. In Sweden, for example, while VET schools are expected to manage a Local Programme Committee to bring together social partners to support the delivery of upper secondary National VET Programmes, in reality it proves too great a challenge – and it is likely that more effective collaboration will take place at regional or sub-regional level (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[26]).

Policy message and argument: Expanding social partner involvement and increasing capacity

Policy message

Take steps to expand social partner involvement at sectoral and local levels and make sure that the actors involved in VET have sufficient capacity to deliver on their responsibilities.

Ensuring that employers and trade union representatives have sufficient capacity and that they represent the broad spectrum of VET professions in order to enhance the quality of engagement

Negotiating VET provision with both employers and unions provides valuable information to governments seeking to ensure the design of VET qualifications meets labour market needs while remaining attractive to learners (OECD, 2018[10]). In order to ensure that this process is effective, employers’ representatives need to reflect and be recognised by a majority of employers within a sector. Effective engagement will ensure that the interests of a professional sector outweigh those of individual employers. The role of the trade unions is also important, because they can balance, for example, the tendency of employers to over focus on short-term firm-specific skills and excessively long apprenticeships which reduce employer costs (OECD, 2018[10]; OECD, 2010[6]). Unions with a broad membership base of employees working in professions linked to VET qualifications represent a rich contact network of representatives who can contribute directly in updating the professions. Representativeness can also be a challenge however, especially if a relatively low share of employees in an occupational area are union members. Identifying appropriate representatives to engage in processes related to VET policy and delivery can therefore be demanding, especially if there is no legal right to paid time off work to engage in such activities, as is the case in Bulgaria.

Effective VET systems make sure that incentives are in place to attract employers and employees candidates with the right competences to be part of the work in renewing and maintaining VET. This is not currently the case in Bulgaria (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, forthcoming[21]). The costs of participation can be covered by the government or by the employers and the unions. As institutional co-operation is relatively new, building up capacity in the system will take time. To facilitate the effectiveness of social partner engagement, changes can be made in the workload and work methods. Better access to data and evidence about labour market outcomes, for example, can be expected to make the work easier and demands can be lessened by reviewing fewer programmes in greater depth each year as is the case in other OECD countries such as Norway (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2017[22]).

Expanding the institutionalised engagement of social partners to sectoral and local levels can increase the system’s sensitivity to labour market needs

Emmenegger et. al (2019[11]) analyse decentralised co-operation between government and stakeholders and conclude that within apprenticeship systems in addition to an institutionalised co-operation at the national level a significant part of co-operation takes place at decentralised levels and within sectors or occupations. An advantage of this approach is that the VET system can be more sensitive to sectoral and geographical distinctiveness. In Bulgaria, these arenas are lacking or are not sufficiently institutionalised.

Across the OECD countries, the institutional arrangements and the tasks for the involvement of social partners vary. Bodies are established nationally, according to the economic sectors, regionally or at individual institutions (OECD, 2010[6]). Further, the engagement of social partners also varies from purely advisory to decision making. Some countries with apprenticeship systems, such as Denmark and Norway, have given the social partners decision-making influence over aspects of VET where social partners can decide on the content of VET within certain limitations (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[26]). An analysis of the formal social partner influence in seven OECD countries shows the different ways social partners are involved (Table 2.3). These variances are explained by the countries’ governance structure. In addition to having close co-operation at a national level, it is helpful for VET institutions to maintain a strong co-operation with employers and unions locally. Through consultation with such bodies more informed decisions can be made, for example about the number of VET school admissions by programme of study. Moreover, collaboration with social partners locally can enable greater co-operation between local schools and employers in relation to the sourcing of work placements. Denmark provides an example of a country which has formalised local co-operation between schools and employers (Box 2.3). Other examples, such as Sweden, however, highlight the challenges inherent in formally and consistently engaging social partners at the institutional level within local committees linked to specific programmes of study.

Table 2.3. Institutional framework through which social partners influence VET, by level of involvement

 

National

Regional

Institution

Austria

Denmark

Finland

Germany: apprenticeship

Germany: school based VET

Norway

Sweden

Switzerland

Note: Framework for social partners’ involvement at the institutional level refers to formalised collaboration between VET institutions, employers and trade unions with regard to the local provision of VET. For example, in Denmark it refers to Local Trade Committees that are set at the institutional level. In addition to steering VET provision at local level, employers often provide workplace training to students.

Source: Kuczera M. and S. Jeon (2019[26]), Vocational Education and Training in Sweden, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training, https://doi.org/10.1787/g2g9fac5-en.

Box 2.3. Co-operation between schools and local employers in Denmark

Each vocational college (providing school-based education and training) works with at least one local training committee. Training committees include representatives of local employers and employees appointed by national trade committees, and representatives of staff, management and students appointed by colleges. Local training committees work closely with colleges to adapt the content of VET programmes to local needs, strengthen contacts between the college and local employers, and support colleges with the delivery of programmes, for example by securing work placements for students. They also serve as a link between local and national levels, ensuring that national committees have a good overview of local circumstances and that local policy is aligned with the national objectives. For example, they assist and advise national trade committees in approving local enterprises as qualified training establishments and in mediating conflicts between apprentices and enterprises. National committees can hand over obligations to the local trade committees if they are better taken care of at the local level (Dibbern Andersen and Kruse, 2016[28]; Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[26]).

Steering adult VET provision

Challenge: The overall participation of adults in VET is low and the quality of provision is uncertain

Almost one in five adults in Bulgaria possesses low qualifications, which has an impact on their employment situation (European Commission, 2019[39]). As shown in Chapter 1, overall adult participation in learning is very low compared to other EU countries. The European Commission characterises investment in adult learning as insufficient, the evaluation and monitoring of the existing provision as weak, and provision as fragmented and under-developed across the country (European Commission, 2019[39]). The Bulgarian government has set itself the goal of doubling the share of adults engaged in learning to 5% by the end of 2021 (Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, forthcoming[21]). This ambition is to be welcomed if it is the start of a long-term aspiration to increase adult participation in learning. As the labour market becomes more dynamic, the need for older workers to engage in training to maintain their employability will become more urgent (Nedelkoska and Quintini, 2018[40]). Increasing adult participation in VET is part of the 2021 strategy, and as previously stated, is provided under certain conditions through VET adult learning centres, but also through VET gymnasium. The target group for the VET adult learning centres is people over 16 who can be provided with a formal VET training at EQF levels 2-4 as well as partial qualifications, in addition to non-formal training. The VET adult learning centres are quite numerous: in 2017, a total of 978 centres provided training for adults across Bulgaria. Most of the centres are private, and more than half of their income stems from learners. Learners can receive vouchers from the public employment services to take courses in such centres, for instance if the learner is unemployed. In addition, the centres receive direct funding from employers and from national or European level public sources of financing (Cedefop, 2018[13]).

As noted above, concerns have been raised over both the quality of the training the centres provide and the government’s capacity to monitor the quality. NAVET has experienced challenges in licensing and assuring quality through inspections due to the lack of human resources and regional structures to support them. The high number of centres has also been raised as a concern. The government has in general, limited information about the outcomes of the training and especially its labour market relevance. If Bulgaria is to increase adult participation in learning, under existing arrangements, the number of VET centres might be expected to increase even further. This can lead to further challenges relating to managing these centres.

Policy message and supporting arguments: Assure the quality of the VET provision for adults

Policy message

Take steps to better manage VET adult learning centres that provide training for adults, notably by improving quality assurance, accountability and potentially decreasing the number of centres.

Improve horizontal collaboration to ensure the adult learning policy is coherent

The Ministry of Education and Science maintains overall responsibility for the formal training provided by VET adult learning centres, while the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs indirectly funds them through a voucher system. NAVET, which is placed under the responsibility of the Council of Ministers, is responsible for licencing and conducting inspections on the VET adult learning centres. Policy areas that cut across ministerial lines can often prove difficult to steer because of lack of co-operation on common objectives (ILO and UNESCO, 2018[3]). Improving the quality of VET adult learning centres will require close co-operation between these authorities, for instance on setting common goals and devising measures to achieve them. Focusing on for instance increasing elements of work-based learning as part of the training can be one measure to increase the quality.

Improving quality assurance mechanisms is essential to raise the attractiveness of provision

A first important step to better inform policy decisions involves improving data on the outcomes of the training provided by adult VET training centres. In devising VET graduate tracking tools, significant opportunity exists to include adult learners from these centres.

It is important too to focus attention on the capacity issues being experienced by NAVET with regard to the licencing and conducting inspections of VET adult learning centres. As well as giving consideration to increasing the capacity of NAVET to fulfil its responsibilities, opportunity also exists to simplify procedures for licensing centres. For instance, as new LPVET and SES are being developed, the centres need to be relicensed. The European Commission (2018[17]) is right to suggest means of reducing the impact these changes have on licencing, for instance through streamlining notification processes related to new criteria with which VET adult learning centres need to comply. Moreover, the principle of earned autonomy can be extended by introducing less frequent, but more intense inspections – with well-run institutions being re-inspected less frequently than institutions raising concerns. The regional level of government, which already holds a role in conducting inspections of the VET schools, can be involved in this work.

It is timely as Bulgaria plans on expanding adult education and training to review the number of VET adult learning centres. The OECD (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[26]) has recently suggested that Sweden consider merging VET schools, including many which are privately operated, in order to take advantage of economies of scale, improve quality and responsiveness to labour market demand. Funding incentives are means of encouraging and rewarding collaborations and mergers. In Estonia, for example, many small providers have been merged into regional VET centres in order to increase quality and efficiency (Kuczera and Jeon, 2019[26]).

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