How interdependent national and EU-level policies for apprenticeship training are spreading through Europe

How interdependent national and EU-level policies for apprenticeship training are spreading through Europe

Education policy was being approached at a European level as early as the treaty of Rome in 1957, and its importance has been reaffirmed, again and again, through various monumental summits (e.g. Council of Lisbon), programmes (such as Erasmus), and processes (e.g. Bologna Process) ever since. The curious thing about education policy at a European level is that education is traditionally a mainly national policy field (Leibfried et al., 2007). Understanding how and by whom EU education policy is shaped, and how, in turn, it shapes and influences policy within the different member states, is a puzzle still to be deeper explored – and the puzzle is growing evermore relevant. Recently, the European-level policy suite for education has expanded even further. In vocational education and training (VET), a field typically bound to national borders, the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) was launched in 2013.

EAfA brings together governments and key stakeholders in an effort to enhance the quality, availability, and perception of apprenticeships throughout Europe. In doing so, it promotes apprenticeship training that is collectively governed by multiple public and private actors (Graf and Marques, 2023). The extent of cooperation between these actors, the distribution of power amongst them, and the structures that bind them together can vary between different national contexts. However, more generally, in this collective approach, apprenticeship training is coordinated through regular, decentralised collective action and deliberation by the social partners (firms and unions) and the state, at national, regional, and local policy levels.

The EAfA, with its collective approach, was followed only one year later by the founding of the German Alliance for Initial and Further Training, a structure often referred to as a national equivalent to the European Alliance (European Commission, 2017). Both alliances create new platforms for VET stakeholders at local and national levels to jointly develop innovative training policies, foster apprenticeships, and exchange knowledge of ‘best practices’. Following the renewals of these programmes in 2020 and 2019, respectively, we have studied them in juxtaposition and found that the two alliances are interdependent, being shaped by each other through their evolution, and shaping other EU states’ policies in the process (Rohde-Liebenau and Graf, 2023).

Parallel and interdependent development of the European and German alliances for apprenticeships

Soft coordination in the EU regarding VET development is an arena for the exchange of experiences and insights rather than for the establishment of laws. This soft coordination can, for instance, be accomplished through experimentalist forms of governance. One of the mechanisms of such coordination is Working Groups of relevant stakeholders, which often pursue the tools of comparisons (Nóvoa, 2013; Tveit and Lundahl, 2018) and learning (Lange and Alexiadou, 2010) to foster policy development at both EU and national levels. This soft coordination, therefore, allows for mutual interchange of EU policy, with the European Commission having the greatest role as the driver of such coordination.

Since the German VET system has gained the reputation of being effective in securing a competent workforce, along with its support for a stable labour market, German policymakers are in the position to partly “upload” their successes to the broader EU system, which we observed in the case of the EAfA. To some extent, aspects of the German approach are adopted at the EU level, in the form of ‘best practices’ for developing a VET system. At the same time, the EAfA offers inspiration for the German Alliance for Apprenticeships, providing a synergetic European context (Rohde-Liebenau and Graf, 2023). In light of the continuing trend of such parallel and interdependent developments, and in the context of increasing EU involvement in educational policy, it is possible that these policy systems will, to some extent, arc towards convergence, supported by the mutual learning of both systems, such that each system in some way and to some extent becomes part of the other.

Collective skill formation in statist and liberal systems?

Such convergence can be seen beyond the almost parallel development of the Alliances in Germany and at the EU level. Furthermore, the EU as the driver of soft coordination across Europe, can also be seen as having an influence on other states. For example, both France and Ireland, despite following traditionally different models for their skill formation systems (statist and liberal, respectively), have both shown indications of progressing towards a collectively governed skills training model which bears striking resemblance to the one envisioned and professed by the EAfA (Graf and Marques, 2023).

Certainly, a partly collectivised French system will look different than an Irish one, given the different starting points they have been built upon (this is the key concept of path dependency). Indeed, the traditional French statist apprenticeship system is based more heavily around the role of the state. Yet, since the onset of the EAfA, several measures have been undertaken to decentralise the VET system. In 2014, regional power was enlarged through a funding increase; in 2016 public institutions gained autonomy in determining contracts; and in 2018 the system had a major reform to simplify the system for users. In the Irish case, despite having built some collective organizing in 1987 and 1993 for the regulation and standardisation of apprenticeships and job training, the VET model is conventionally based around the importance of employers and free market dynamics (liberal). However, following a fulsome review in 2013, the system underwent major reforms, pointing towards the influence which the EAfA had on it. Thus, the reforms of both the French and German models largely follow the model laid out in the EAfA, especially considering newer institutions for collective cooperation.

Outlook: New directions for European skill formation?

Ultimately, there is a noticeable trend of mutual influence between the German and European cases of apprenticeship systems. In the context of the EU’s increasing involvement in educational policy, as well as the almost parallel introduction of the European and German alliances for apprenticeships within one year of each other, it is unsurprising to observe that they have a mutual influence on each other.

Looking forward, it can be expected that this parallel development will progress into further interdependence and possibly convergence. Using the cases of the French and Irish apprenticeship systems, we can reinforce this prediction with our finding of some indicators of convergence, as both countries are increasingly showing signs of European-level influence, despite having previously-existing structures which do not lend themselves to such an outcome.

Key Messages

  • The European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA), launched in 2013, brings together governments and key stakeholders to enhance apprenticeships throughout Europe.
  • The EAfA with its collective governance approach was followed only one year later by the founding of the German Alliance for Initial and Further Training.
  • Both alliances create new platforms for public and private VET stakeholders at local and national levels to jointly develop innovative training policies and exchange knowledge of ‘best practices’.
  • Following recent renewals of these programmes, we find that the two alliances are partly interdependent, being shaped by each other through their evolution, and shaping other EU states’ policies in the process.
  • For instance, both France and Ireland both show indications of progressing towards a collectively governed skills training model which bears resemblance to the one envisioned by the EAfA.
Prof. Dr. Lukas Graf

Prof. Dr. Lukas Graf

Swiss University for Vocational Education and Training, Switzerland

Lukas Graf is a Professor at the Swiss Federal University of Vocational Education and Training and Head of the Swiss Observatory for Vocational Education and Training. Previously, he was Assistant Professor of Educational Governance and Head of the Educational Governance Team at the Hertie School, Berlin. Lukas was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of St.Gallen, the University of Luxembourg, and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. He gained his PhD from Freie Universität Berlin.




Dr. Marcelo Marques

Dr. Marcelo Marques

University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg

Marcelo Marques is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Luxembourg. He holds degrees from the University of Lisbon (BA and MA), the University of Luxembourg (PhD), and the University of Essex (Bachelor of Laws). He was also a postdoctoral researcher at Hertie School in Berlin, Germany, and a visiting researcher at École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France, and Brunel University, England. Marcelo works on transnational governance and Europeanisation processes.




Dr. Judith Rohde-Liebenau

Dr. Judith Rohde-Liebenau

Hertie School – The University of Governance in Berlin, Germany

Judith Rohde-Liebenau works as a public sector strategy consultant. She is a research fellow at the Jacques Delors Centre at the Hertie School – The University of Governance in Berlin. Her research interests include (transnational) education, identity and socialisation, European integration and policy learning, and qualitative methods. She completed her DPhil in Sociology at the University of Oxford and holds degrees in Political Science from UCL London, Humboldt University Berlin, Sciences Po Paris, and Free University Berlin.


Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

Further reading

Graf, L, Marques, M(2023) Towards a European model of collective skill formation? Analysing the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. Journal of Education Policy38(4): 665-685,

Rohde-Liebenau, J, Graf, L (2023) Two instruments, one melody: The parallel evolvement of European and German alliances for apprenticeships. European Educational Research Journal, Online first access:



European Commission (2017b) European Alliance for Apprenticeships – Assessment of Progress and Planning the Future. Brussels: DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.

Graf, L, Marques, M (2023) Towards a European model of collective skill formation? Analysing the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. Journal of Education Policy38(4): 665-685,

Lange B, Alexiadou N (2007) New forms of European Union governance in the education sector? A preliminary analysis of the Open Method of Coordination. European Educational Research Journal 6(4): 321–335.

Leibried, S, Rusconi A., Leuze K. (2007) New Arenas of Education Governance. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Nóvoa A (2013) Numbers do not replace thinking. European Educational Research Journal 12(1): 139–148.

Rohde-Liebenau, J, Graf, L (2023) Two instruments, one melody: The parallel evolvement of European and German alliances for apprenticeships. European Educational Research Journal, Online first access:

Tveit S, Lundahl C (2018) New modes of policy legitimation in education: (Mis)using comparative data to effectuate assessment reform. European Educational Research Journal 17(5): 631–655.

EERJ Special Issue: Researching space and time making in Education

EERJ Special Issue: Researching space and time making in Education

The European Educational Research Journal  (EERJ) was created by EERA to further the aims of the association and its members, educational researchers across Europe. It is a scientific journal interested in the changing landscape of education research across Europe. It publishes double-blind peer-reviewed papers in special issues and as individual articles. As part of the ongoing cooperation with EERJ, the EERA blog will share updates and information about upcoming and published special issues and articles alongside blog posts from EERJ contributors. 

Introduction―Space-and time-making in education: Towards a topological lens

Vol 21, Issue 6, 2022

First published online February 16, 2022

Mathias Decuypere
KU Leuven, Belgium

Sigrid Hartong
Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg, Germany

Karmijn van de Oudeweetering
KU Leuven, Belgium

Have you ever had the feeling that time is going faster than it used to? That this acceleration is doing something with our idea of what good education is, or should be? That the pandemic has done something to our understanding of what it means to teach and learn physically ‘here’, or digitally ‘there’? That it is hard to say where and when exactly the workday of an educator starts or ends?

Space and time are made

These questions show us that it is increasingly getting more difficult to talk about space and time as if they are naturally just ‘out there’, surrounding us and our social lives. Contrary to such an instrumental and ‘neutral’ understanding of space and time, nowadays, we equally often hear that space and time are (partly) human constructions, and that our understanding of them changes continuously. For instance, the emergence of online educational platforms and other digital tools allow people from all over the world and across different time zones to be simultaneously present in a class or lecture.

Like a magnifying glass, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has powerfully invigorated and accelerated processes of digitization, and even more clearly illuminated how much impact they have on the educational field. As living rooms have transformed into do-it-yourself classrooms, as computer screens have served as both blackboards and lecturing halls, and as after-school programs have spread over the day, the pandemic has concretely shown how space and time are not only abstract ‘givens’. Rather than that, they have turned the self-evident and previously somehow “tacit” character of space- and time-making in education, into a topic of crucial concern.

Social topology at work

In our Special Issue in the European Educational Research Journal, we discuss and elaborate on one approach that allows us to research such processes of space- and time-making: (social) topology. The usage of topology is not necessarily new in educational research, but it has hitherto merely been used in very complex, theoretical, and abstract manners. In this Special Issue, our aim is to bring together various empirical studies that work within the framework of social topology. In adopting a topological lens, all the studies contained in the Special Issue show topology ‘at work’: they make it very concrete how you can, by means of this framework, research different sorts of space(s) and time(s) in educational practices.

Making educational spaces and times

Topology thus focuses on space and time as relational constructions that are made by humans, and that at the same time have a very profound impact on humans. A very intuitive example of this is the switching of the clock when we enter and exit daylight saving time – we then all very clearly feel the impact of our (human) tinkering with time. In our Special Issue, we have collected various contributions that show the different sorts of spacetimes that exist in the field of education; most of the time even existing at once. Where, for instance, does a lecture take place when it is being distributed in a digital form as a lecture capture and when it is equally being discussed online on Twitter?

Similarly, when and where does something like a borderless ‘European education’ take place when it is happening online? Where does it begin and where does it end?

These are the kind of questions that are addressed in our Special Issue, and that show the importance of using a topological lens in order to do research that focuses on the making of educational spaces and times. Moreover, as the Special Issue shows, these newly emerging spaces and times, when they are introduced in our educational systems, are doing something with and to do those systems. For instance, they create new sorts of professions and new types of professionalities. Equally, they are rhetorically deployed in such a way that they install particular future visions and desires into students and teachers.


In summary, then, our Special Issue focuses on educational spaces and times as things that are continuously being made. Moreover, the articles in the collection do so by giving mutual attention to space(s) and time(s).

As such, the collection greatly advances our understanding of how the spatial and the temporal continuously interact with each other, and thus makes a clear case for the importance of analyzing both conjointly, without seeking to privilege one over the other.

You can access the EERJ Special Issue here (open access). If you are interested in submitting to the EERJ, you can find the Submission Guidelines here.

Prof. Mathias Decuypere

Prof. Mathias Decuypere

Associate Professor of Qualitative Research at KU Leuven, Belgium.

Mathias Decuypere is Associate Professor of Qualitative Research at KU Leuven, Belgium.

Professor Sigrid Hartong

Professor Sigrid Hartong

W3-Professor of Sociology at Helmut Schmidt Universität Hamburg, Germany.

Sigrid Hartong is W3-Professor of Sociology at Helmut Schmidt Universität Hamburg, Germany.

Karmijn van de Oudeweetering

Karmijn van de Oudeweetering

Doctoral candidate at KU Leuven, Belgium.

Karmijn van de Oudeweetering is a doctoral candidate at KU Leuven, Belgium.

How to prepare for your first ERG conference

How to prepare for your first ERG conference

The Emerging Researchers’ Group holds an annual conference, the Emerging Researchers’ Conference (ERG), preceding the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). We asked Estella Ferraro for some tips on preparing and attending your first ERG Conference.

Going to an international conference for the first time can be overwhelming and exciting at the same time. It is an excellent opportunity to meet fellow colleagues from all over the world – I have met colleagues from Europe but also from Australia, Asia, South America, and Africa.  It also gives you feedback on your research from outside the own academic framework, which can really open your eyes to entirely new perspectives.

You can’t just show up on the first day of the conference. There are a number of preparations you should undertake, and some of them start months before the conference even takes place. Especially when planning to go to ECER for the first time, it is easy to lose track of the upcoming necessary deadlines. So here are some tips on how to prepare for your first (or second or third) ERG conference.

Deadlines and preparations in advance to the conference

The Proposal

Many reasons may have led you to want to attend the ERG conference. Perhaps the topic is of great interest to you, or you have always wanted to travel to the place ECER takes place that year, or maybe your supervisor asked you to come along. The first decision is if you wish to present yourself or if you are attending to watch, learn, and network. Both have their advantages: it can be very inspiring to participate for the first time without being nervous or stressed about your own presentation, especially if your funding permits that.

On the other hand, I would suggest that if you have a chance to present you should go for it! The ERG conference is a great place to practice your presentation skills and get helpful feedback on your research in an extremely friendly atmosphere on an international scale.

Submission usually starts in December before the conference and ends in January. You can find the current deadline here. This timeline is something you should keep in mind and plan for so you can write the proposal and hand it in in time.


With that in mind, you might also consider funding opportunities. There are many opportunities for travel grants and funding you can apply for (from EERA, your home country, or home university). It is worth researching the conditions and deadlines for funding opportunities so that you don’t miss a chance! Make sure you can get all necessary documents in time, especially if you need something from others who might take some time such as a recommendation letter.

Accommodation, Visa and Flights

Obviously, this won’t apply if the conference takes place digitally. In April review results are usually announced, and this is when things get real! It can be advisable to book accommodation even before results are announced if you have an option to cancel free of charge. ECER is a huge conference and often in small cities so affordable accommodation can be booked out quickly. Don’t leave this to the last minute. Similarly, if you need to apply for a visa, check the deadlines so you don’t miss anything.

Deadlines and Preparations Closer to the Conference

Preparing your Presentation

Once time draws closer to the conference, you should start preparing your paper if you have been accepted to present one. Here it is important that you don’t overload your presentation as timing can be tricky. Participants often want to include too much information, while often it’s better to keep it simple and clear. Don’t be scared about presenting in another language.  Your English doesn’t have to be perfect and, in my experience, everyone at the ERG conference is really helpful even if you forget how to say something. If you have questions on your research or about something you’re stuck with, it’s fine to ask for that in the discussion too, so that you can really get the most from your experience and presentation at ECER.

Scheduling your conference

Look at the schedule and think about what interests you, and what you want to get out of the conference. Be prepared to pick out some sessions in advance but also accept that sometimes you might end up spontaneously changing your mind. Don’t overschedule yourself Leave some space for networking opportunities and meeting other academics as well.

Finally, all I can say is the emerging researcher conference is an amazing platform to learn, engage and network, so: Enjoy your time there!

Further Information

Find out more about the ERG Conference, including deadlines, programme, and accepted presentation formats on the EERA website.

Want to know what to expect? Have a look at the previous ECER and ERG conferences and check out our YouTube channel for videos of the ECER keynote sessions in 2020. 

Dr Estella Ferraro

Dr Estella Ferraro

Dr Estella Ferraro (née Hebert) is a Post-Doc researcher at the Goethe University in Frankfurt at the chair for theory and history of education. She is also a co-convenor for the Emerging Researchers Group and for Network 6 Open Learning: Media, Environments, and Cultures of the European Educational Research Association (EERA). Her research interests focus on questions of media education including teaching and learning with new media, datafication and big data, digital surveillance, identity in the light of personal data, and questions of digital ethics. Her PhD thesis published under the title of „Willful Blindness – on the relationship of identity, agency and personal data“ exemplifies the intersection of a bildungs-theoretical perspective with post-digital theories that characterise Dr Ferraro as a researcher.

She has over six years of experience in teaching and researching media education and has worked and studied internationally. For more information on her research and work go to: