Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence


Case Study highlighting Germany's renowned vocational educational system. Taken from, Tuesday 29 January 2002[19]

  Ronny Maschke, 20, has ambitions. He wants to work at the Munich city utilities company, the Stadtwerke Munchen, for perhaps two years; then he will apply for university, to do computing. And after that: "I want to work in a firm where hardware and software solutions are produced, like Siemens and IBM," he says in nervous but clear English that he's maintained through a course at his college.

  Maschkie is well-placed. Stadtwerke Munchen are paying for his block release course at the Berufsschule für Fertingungstechnick in Munich. He is two and a half years through a three-and-a-half-year course. He works a fortnight at the firm, helping among other things to operate and maintain the subway, and then has a week in college.

    "It's a very good college, we learn a lot. It's the only college for mechatronics of this kind in Bavaria." he says in between programming his computer to power a small, robotic machine. He doesn't wish he was at a gymnasium, roughly equivalent to a grammer school, or having a more classical education at university. "In Germany, we have too many lawyers."

  At this Berufsschule (vocational school), the walls are bare and the classrooms gloomy, but the enthusiasm of the trainees and tutors is apparent and infectious. Manfred Schanhuber could have stayed in industry, but he preferred to come back here to teach. Vocational teachers are among the best paid in Germany.

  This is one of the best schools of its type in Bavaria, which is partly why Tory spokesman Damian Green and National Union of Teachers' assistant secretary Arthur Jarman were taken to see it on their visit there last week. Some 150 companies sponsor 1,800 students here, including BMW, which pays its students 1,750 euros a month (about £1,080), a very good rate. Despite Maschke's view, it's generally probably true that the gymnasium route does have higher status. "It's a very difficult question," says Wolfraum Bundesmann, managing director of the German teaching union GE, but he concludes: "The image of it (vocational education) is not so good as for the ones that go to the gymnasium."

  But as the UK government pursues the elusive holy grail of high status, high value technical education in its imminent blueprint for reform of education for the 14-19 age group, Germany is proof that it is possible.

  The interest from companies in the Berufsschule is staggering. But so too is their power. They decide which students to sponsor. The school has no control over who it teaches. If a student is badly behaved, they can make them take lessons in their holidays or send them back to the firms, but this is exceptional. "They don't behave badly, trust me," says Johann Tyroller, director of the Berufsschule. The firms dictate what is taught. The firms pay the students a salary and tie them to a contract. Meanwhile the Bavarian government pays the teachers, and the books, buildings and equipment are funded by local taxpayers. In negotiation with the companies, the government has laid down 13 different occupational fields, within which there are 370 different traineeships.

  So, for instance, someone on the electronic engineering course will take a basic training in their first year, and specialise in the second and third years into their chosen field—radio technology, or information technology. They take a general education as well, including social studies, physical education, and ethics and religion.

  But the recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development casts doubt on whether this model system really is such a model after all. British students showed up their German peer group in the tests carried out for the study, which were in the nature of problem-solving. Germany performed poorly in all areas of the tests—suggesting a shortage of nimble-minded generalists who could adapt to the changing economy. Only 28 per cent of German students go to university, compared to around 45 per cent of Britons, although German courses tend to be twice as long. And there has been criticism of the system of setting occupational fields: web design, for instance, is not on offer, and there is a belief in some quarters that the schools have been slow to develop computer education.

  "There was a pressure on the government to work very fluently—especially in professions that have not existed before," said Rudolf Halbritter, head of the vocational training department in the Bavarian government. "But when you have professions that have been on the market for a long time they (the government) have to consider the wishes of the profession."

  This kind of talk gives Mr Green concern. "The bad thing on the evidence of what we've heard is the degree of micro-regulation from the government, in particular, the idea that if you want to teach something it has to be a recognised profession," he told the Guardian.

  "If you carry on like that you will have some of the economic problems in terms of lack of flexibility that the German economy has, so it's clearly not perfect. If we introduced a reformed system into Britain I'd certainly want it to be much more flexible, much more fast moving and much less under the detailed control of a central government apparatus."

  But, that said, he is impressed. "They clearly have no hang-ups about treating vocational education as seriously as they treat more academic education. There will no doubt be bits of vocational education, particularly in some of the further education colleges, that are very good (in Britain) but here it is integrated into the whole school system. That may point to what we should do in terms of more integration of further education into a wider system.

  "But, I think the first hurdle we have to jump—it may be that politicians have to jump it first, and in another way maybe Conservative politicians have to jump it first—is to say this part of the education system matters as much as any part. And the fact that, by and large, the political elite in Britain has never had much personal experience of it may be one reason why it has been neglected over time."

  While he thinks introducing vocational GCSEs and A-levels may be a step in the right direction to create parity of esteem with academic qualifications, it is only a step. "I don't think badges and labels are going to do it: we have far too complex a system now of examinations from 14 through to 18, 19, and every week a new idea comes up which makes it even more complicated.

  "I think we're in danger of treating the symptoms rather than the causes: if people were getting a high-quality vocational education that they knew was useful, the courses were good and relevant and all those involved felt expert in doing them as they appear to in Germany, then the right qualifications would pop out at the end." And even in Munich, according to a man from the education ministry, it is very difficult to get a plumber.

UK Implementation of the EU Packaging Wastes Directive

  When the UK implementation was being discussed between Government and Industry in late 1995, the Government failed to give a lead as to where the obligation to raise levies for used packaging recovery should fall. They accepted some of industry's view that the obligation should be shared by all parts of the packaging chain, whereas in many European countries it falls on only the packer/filler companies.

  This was implemented in complex packaging regulations which require all companies in the packaging chain to compile complex packaging data, which means UK companies administration costs will be higher than in the rest of Europe.

  The Office of Fair Trading influenced the draft UK Packaging Regulations to ensure there was a good choice of compliance schemes for companies to join. We currently have 13 schemes, which in our opinion is too many.

  On the UK Packaging Regulations, the Environment Minister sets targets each year for recovery and recycling. We are near the end of March and Mr Meacher has still announced no targets. It is probably pointless announcing them now, since it is too late for sensible planning.

Southern Member States implementing Directives slowly

  Greece should have adopted legislation to transpose the onerous requirements of the Packaging Waste Directive by July 1996. This was done in 2001. Greece has been fined by the European Commission.

Peter Davis

Director General, BPF

19   See under the Education Weekly Section. The Way to do it. Tuesday, 29 January 2002. Back

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 14 June 2002