Germany - learning region development summary

1. Brief introduction

Germany has 81,471,834 Mio. inhabitants (June 2011). It is Europe's largest economy and second most populous nation (after Russia). Germany is constituted a federal state, comprising 16 autonomous “Länder” with own legislation, government, public services, taxing rights etc.. Bicameral legislature consists of the Federal Council or Bundesrat and the Federal Diet or Bundestag. The German economy is a leading exporter of machinery, vehicles, chemicals, and household equipment and benefits from a highly skilled labor force. Labour force in 2010 is 43.49 million, falling into agriculture: 2.4%, industry: 29.7% and services: 67.8%. Regarding the educational system, responsibilities for vocational education & training policies are shared between national and regional level, while the 16 Länder completely oversee higher education, school and adult education. The expenditure to education in 2007 is 4.5% of GDP. The literacy rate is 99%, this is 99% of the population at the age of 15 and over can read and write (2003).

2. Summary of material collected

The partner LRD (National Association of Learning Regions)collected and documented a vast amount of items, produced in the context of the German Learning Regions programme. That is descriptions of the regional projects, programming documents, work programmes, planning documents, interim / final reports and publicy materials released by the regional initiatives. Moreover, materials of various kind, all of which describing specific outcomes of the regional initiatives, were mapped into the EUROLOCAL knowledge base.

The majority of items refer to the following strands:

  • Information services to increase the transparency of the regional education market (internet database etc.)
  • development of new learning arrangements
  • educational marketing
  • needs analyses and analysis of regional education market (products, services etc.)
  • vocational guidance and qualification during school-work transition
  • dissemination and transfer of results
  • educational counselling
  • development and piloting of curricula

However, also other strands of the programme were referred, such as

  • Certification of learning
  • Interregional exchange between learning regions, other programmes
  • Integration of unemployed persons into the labour market
  • career counselling in organisations / companies
  • Gender mainstreaming
  • Establishing Service- and Learning centres
  • Train the trainer
  • Development of quality / quality assurance

3. Progress

The Federal “Learning Regions” Programme is the most ambitious of its kind in Europe. The Federal and Länder Commission for Educational Planning and Research Funding adopted a “Strategy for Lifelong Learning in the Federal Republic of Germany” on 5th July 2004 that had been developed by the Federal Government and the Länder. A strategy of lifelong learning aims to show how learning can be encouraged and promoted for all citizens in all stages of life, in a large number of learning venues and using a wide range of learning fa-cilities. Lifelong learning refers not just to formal education, but also to informal learning. On the basis of the constitutional framework, a “Strategy of Lifelong Learning” in the Federal Republic of Germany cannot be explained within the meaning of a "national coherent strategy", but as a mutually agreed strategy indicating aspects and correlations that are based, by and large, on consensus within the Länder and between the Federal Government and the Länder – irrespective of their constitutional respective competencies.

Because of the constitutional restrictions for a nationwide LLL strategy, the introduction of programmes like LR can be seen as a political-practical alternative. This is about developing lifelong learning through bringing together and combining multilevel players of the federalist system, while at the same time avoiding the risk of institutional conflict.

The framework concept for “Learning Regions” was approved by the Bund-Länder Commission for Educational Planning and Research Promotion: in consultation with both the Concerted Action in Continuing Education, and the Committee for Continuing and Further Education of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany. It was enacted on 19.6.2000. It was designed to promote regional co-operation and networking : to bring together relevant players from different educational sectors in order to jointly develop and pilot innovations in the context of Lifelong Learning within the regional strategy context. Within an overarching framework of objectives, 79 exemplary regional networks were selected to develop and deliver guidance, learning, and further education services. The aim in this was to improve employability, strengthen small and middle-sized enterprises and promote regional development. Furthermore, the networks were expected to provide an impetus for the creation of sustainable partnerships (supported and financed by their users), private and public institutions, as well as companies.

4. Links to ET2020

All materials developed under the German Learning Regions initiative were developed with a view to making lifelong learning a reality, either from a structural or systems perspective. They are in full compliance with the ET 2020 goals, although ET2020 was not in place at the time of programme delivery. The national initiative was the first, implemented in the line with the new ESF strand "Support to Structures and Systems'.

The ESF Support to Structures and Systems (SSS) has been introduced for the first time in the current ESF regulation in order to improve the effectiveness of the ESF and/or as an instrument in supporting policies. The role that the systems and structures are called to play is extremely important for the support, amongst others, of reforms in the development of lifelong learning systems, modernisation and strengthening of the labour market institutions, networking activities and pacts. ESF - SSS are proposed by the relevant authorities in Member-States in order to fit their own problems, historical background and socio-economic reality. In this way support to a wide variety of structures and systems that have been established or modernised is included in various member states.

Framework of action

The programme was implemented with the support of the European Social Fund, adressing the following priorities.

Promotion and improvement of vocational training, education and counselling in the context of a lifelong learning policy Objective 1 / Policy field 3 / Measure 6 - Operationelles Programm des Bundes Ziel 1 (am 21. Februar 2001 von der Europäischen Kommission genehmigt – K [2001] 25 [Nr. 200 DE 05 1 PO 007])

Objective 3 / Policy field 3 / Measure 6 - Einheitliches Programmplanungsdokument Ziel 3 für Deutschland (am 10. Oktober 2000 von der Europäischen Kommission genehmigt – K [2000] 2414 [Nr. 1999 DE 05 3 DO 001])

The LR programme is targeted at creating structural improvement in the educational system, particularly with a view to:

  • flexible transition between different education and training sectors, interlocking general, political and vocational education and training reinforcing cooperation between education policy, employment policy and labour market policy
  • promoting economic development and other policy areas in order to increase people’s employability and proficiency
  • improving the transparency of education and training services to make them more user-friendly: for example by combining information, advisory and agency services and providing new services, including for self-directed learning
  • improving the quality and usability of education and training services, for example by agreeing on common criteria for quality and by exchanging ideas and information on procedures for quality development
  • Last but not least, the LR programme within a broader context of LLL policies shall con¬tribute to boosting motivation and foster independent learning ability, achieving both qualitative and quantitative improvements which will lead, not least, to a greater degree of user orientation (empowerment)

Intervention logic

The intervention logic, set up by the programme actors, represents a good example for the inclusion of short-, mid- and long-term goals, as well as strategic and operational objectives - drawing from all levels of the network. The framework concept for the German “Learning Regions” was approved by the Bund-Länder Commission for Educational Planning and Research Promotion in consultation with both the Concerted Action in Continuing Education and the Committee for Continuing and Further Education of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany and implemented on 19.6.2000. It is defined by a relatively broad “corridor” of objectives, to be addressed by regional consortia. Participating networks are requested to identify regionally matched systems of objectives (profiles) of relevance to themselves; as well as resources (relevant structures).

A steering committee was set up, comprising representatives of all relevant levels (Federal state, Länder, Representatives of the Concerted Action in Continuing Education, the social partners, the Federal Employment Service and the scientific support group also serve as members of the steering committee in an advisory capacity). Only representatives of the Federal state and 16 countries have voting rights. Due to the fact that the ratio of Federal state and country representatives is balanced, decisions must be reached collaboratively. Furthermore, decisions on funding of single networks must be underpinned by active support of the country in which the project is to take place. The committee usually meets twice a year, with its main tasks being to decide upon grant applications, and to guide the overall im-plementation process. The states, from the outset, appreciated introduction of the LR pro-gramme and showed a strong commitment, through actively promoting the networks and providing infrastructure; as well as through related (counselling and training) services.

According to programme guidelines, applicants either had to set up a corporate body or a joint project (Verbundprojekt) in order to promote a regional network. Following this guideline, promoters for the most part organized themselves as incorporated societies or (non-profit) limited liability companies in order to become first tier beneficiaries. The latter organisation type is linked with second and third tier grantees. Furthermore, within each network there were to be associated partners – linked to the desire to see to added value, valorisation and sustainability of networks.

Undoubtedly the Federal ministry for education and research on one hand and the Länder ministries on the other could be mentioned key players within the framework of the LR programme. Both so far have played a central role both in the process of strategic planning and implementation of the programme as well as the capitalisation of the programme outcomes in the area of educational policies. Furthermore during it was pointed out that the concept of the LR programme originally was founded by a group of actors from both BMBF and Länder ministries, giving the programme from the beginning a “strong political” notion.

In practice all contacts with project promoters and among project promoters (networks) are issued by DLR, including a broad range of technical assistance: organizing of national conferences and workshops as well as regional meetings of network representatives, training of project managers and collaborative marketing the programme in national and international context. On the other hand DLR is consulting promoters during all stages of application, and last not least evaluating applications and re-applications in the run-up of final grant decisions.

Due to the fact that the LR programme is defined as a bottom up approach, the network managers themselves are central for the definition and implementation of regionally specified objectives and networks. Mentionably, the managers interviewed showed a strong regional commitment, whereas the networks themselves were interpreted a means to an end. In addition project managers usually are in close communication with the Länder ministries.

During the planning phase, networks were specifically requested to produce a regional profile along pre-defined areas. The second type of Learning Regions can be found in Germany. There a network of Learning Regions was authorized by the Federal Ministry and officially supported with EU money from the ESF funding lasting for 8 years. The Learning Regions were founded as a transfer instrument to forge new paths in education and create modern, innovative structures making education accessible to everyone. Therefore networks were created out of already existing institutions and complementary activities like guidance and counselling were also supported.

Noteworthy the process of network building in the German case could be interpreted an evolutionary process, rather driven by regional factors than pre-given network criteria. This way also non-educational actors have become involved, who play a central role by supporting social cohesion, local communication among different beneficiary groups and provision of technical environments for learning arrangements.