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Tuning into the world

A new research body intended to gather information about good skills training worldwide is being set up by City amp; Guilds.

The City amp; Guilds Institute will launch in 2008, but is already carrying out a survey in nine countries for what it claims will be one of the most comprehensive studies of different vocational education systems ever compiled.

In Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, India, Malaysia, South Africa and the UK, the institute is using focus groups, face-to-face interviews and telephone surveys to understand global vocational education.

It represents a change of direction for the 129-year-old organisation, which is best known as the largest exam board for vocational qualifications: now City amp; Guilds also hopes to support vocational education, rather than simply accrediting it. The institute hopes it will become a repository of knowledge about skills training, a forum for sharing ideas between practitioners from Bangor to Bangalore. Another of its aims is to bring teachers and researchers together.

Keith Brooker, director of the institute, said: "We and other members of the skills community recognise the need for an independent research and development body that helps turn policy into practice. That need has become pressing as countries wake up to skills imbalances that have huge social and economic consequences."

Mr Brooker said the aims of the Leitch report on FE's future to put the UK in the top 25 per cent of nations for skills depended on better international co operation.

At the moment, comparisons are marred by different ways of collecting and presenting statistics about vocational education, he said. Part of the institute's aim would be to overcome this.

"The Leitch targets are a noble aspiration," he said, "but if we are going to achieve them, then getting comparable data sets is critical."

Among the main concerns of the institute, which will have a staff of about ten and will commission new research, will be the problems of ageing populations and migration in the developed world.

It will also focus on how best to match skills training to employer needs. Mr Brooker said the UK's employer-led sector skills councils attracting interest from abroad was one possible solution.

And the institute hopes it can provide an insight into why vocational qualifications are not highly regarded, particularly in England.

Traditionally, Germany is where vocational skills are most respected, although Mr Brooker said that is changing as it becomes less dominated by manufacturing.

A report commissioned by the Learning and Skills Development Agency in 2005 challenged the value of international comparisons. Researchers from Edinburgh University said that institutions, policies and practices did not travel well, and the different cultural contexts meant copycat schemes rarely worked as intended.

They suggested that there should be more sharing of ideas between the four countries of the UK, where differences were smaller. England, they said, tended to ignore changes in the other three.

Mr Brooker said the institute would be careful not to assume policies could be simply transplanted. Researchers could analyse contributory factors to see where ideas could be reproduced.

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