The value of internationalisation for upper secondary vocational education
A discussion with 23 governors in the vanguard
Three-and-a-half years ago, in 2015, the first Erasmus+ VET Mobility Charters were awarded to 23 upper secondary vocational education institutions. The Charter is a quality mark that is awarded by the Erasmus+ National Agency to upper secondary vocational education institutions that have made internationalisation a priority and have integrated it into their policy agendas. The award placed these 23 upper secondary vocational education institutions in the vanguard of internationalisation in upper secondary vocational education. Three years after awarding the first VET Mobility Charters, the Erasmus+ National Agency visited these 23 Charter holders and spoke to their governors about the current state of affairs regarding internationalisation at their institutions. The parties readily agreed that internationalisation includes much more than just its most well-known manifestation: a work placement abroad. Within the institutions themselves, there was also a focus on internationalisation ‘at home’. In many ways, upper secondary vocational education institutions operate in an international context: students and staff come from different cultures, they collaborate with innovative businesses abroad and many students end up working for businesses that operate internationally. An important and interesting topic of conversation was therefore the added value of internationalisation for students and staff. What can you do with it? Which choices need to be made? Which strategies are used to shape internationalisation? Among the points that came up were the following:
Development as a person and as a professional
The key argument that emerged from the discussions with the governors was that an international learning experience contributes to students’ personal and professional development. Such an experience gives students both a thorough preparation for a position in society – in that it helps them become global citizens – and a competitive edge on the labour market. Through internationalisation, students discover what the globalisation of society and the labour market means to them and acquire competences to deal with these developments, such as increased self-awareness, life skills and entrepreneurship. These competences not only prepare them for their future careers, but also boost their flexibility when it comes to employment. Students with greater self-awareness demonstrate a more flexible attitude and are more likely to take proactive steps in the future, such as changing jobs, to prevent their careers from stalling. Life skills are required for lifelong learning in the context of the society of tomorrow.
Transitioning to a higher level of education
Although a causal relationship is difficult to prove, several surveys have indicated that students who have attained upper secondary vocational education level 4 and spent some time abroad are highly likely to transition to higher professional education. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that level 2 students are much more keen to continue their studies after a study trip abroad. Although the
governors suspect that there is a link, further research is required to obtain solid evidence.
Improving the quality of education: the professionalisation of staff
Many governors expressed a desire to strengthen the relationship between professionalisation and internationalisation. Teaching staff who are active internationally receive a competence boost, gain a better understanding and appreciation of professional practice and educational systems in other countries, make valuable contributions to policy and are able to increase the quality of their own work. There are many examples of teaching staff who adapted and improved their teaching following a stay abroad. In that sense, internationalisation is a driver of innovation to boost the quality of education.
The governors of the 23 upper secondary vocational education institutions were unanimous in their appreciation of the role of internationalisation in improving the quality of education. In order to maximise the benefits of this powerful tool, many of them are currently working to make internationalisation a key component of policy and day-to-day management. This will both enhance its effects and make them more sustainable.
Would you like to find out more about what internationalisation can do for your own institution? Are you looking for inspiration and more information about the many great internationalisation projects in upper secondary vocational education? Perhaps you are keen to enhance the impact of internationalisation. Whatever your requirements, the Dutch Erasmus+ National Agency will be happy to help.