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Brussels, 9 June 2010

EU policy on vocational education and training - Frequently Asked Questions

(see also IP/10/707)

What is vocational education and training?

Vocational education and training enables people to acquire the knowledge, skills and competences they need on the labour market, whether for a particular job or for a broader range of occupations.

Vocational education and training takes a variety of forms in different countries and also within a given country. It is not linked to a particular type of institution, nor to the age or previous experience of the people concerned. It takes place at different levels of education, from secondary to higher education and training. By bridging learning in educational and workplace environments, it helps to create better employment opportunities and a more adaptable workforce.

Why does the EU have a vocational education and training policy?

The European Union's policy in this field is based on the Treaty (Article 166 TFEU) which gives it the role of supporting and supplementing the action of Member States.

This is done through the exchange of best policy practices between countries, the design and implementation of common European tools and innovative projects supported through the Leonardo da Vinci programme.

The aim is to make European education and training the best in the world, making knowledge available to all Europeans at all ages.

What is the Copenhagen Process?

The Copenhagen Process on enhanced European co-operation in vocational education and training seeks to improve the quality and attractiveness of this type of education. The idea is that to create a skilled, adaptable and mobile workforce.

The Copenhagen Process involves 32 European countries (EU Member States, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey), the European Commission, as well as employers and trade unions. It was launched in 2002 and is reviewed every two years at Ministerial level, with the next meeting to be held in Bruges, Belgium, in December 2010.

What concrete results have been achieved?

Co-operation under the Copenhagen Process has boosted the development of a European 'toolbox' of initiatives which help learners and employees to move between countries and job sectors. It has produced more transparency, making it easier to evaluate skills and qualifications so that they are better recognised and understood in different countries. It supports a common approach across Europe to evaluate learning based on results, rather than length of study or type of institution.


  • Europass provides a template CV and other services so that people can increase their job prospects across Europe. A common format for CVs helps to ensure that qualifications and skills are better understood and recognised.

  • The European Qualification Framework (EQF) links different national qualifications systems, acting as a translation device for employers and individuals to better understand qualifications from different EU countries, thus making it easier to work, study or hire staff abroad.

  • The European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET) is being developed to help in the transfer and recognition of learning in Europe, including experience gained outside formal training systems.

  • The European Quality Assurance Reference Framework aims to boost the quality of education systems by developing common European standards and references. This enhances mutual trust between countries.

How does the EU financially support its vocational education and training policies?

Member States are encouraged to use the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund to support the development of vocational education and training. These funds support the key role of education and training in economic development and social cohesion. Candidate countries have access to the pre-accession funds.

The Leonardo da Vinci programme supports the development, testing, and implementation of innovative reforms. It provides support for spreading good practice that would otherwise remain locked within national borders. Support is also given to trainees, apprentices, teachers and trainers who want to spend time abroad for training or teaching.

Leonardo da Vinci has a budget of € 1.7 billion in 2007-2013, which is 25% of the total budget of the Lifelong Learning Programme.

How does the EU compare with global partners?

Participation in vocational education and training is higher in Europe than in its main competing economies worldwide. On the other hand, the proportion of low-skilled and unskilled people in the EU is considerably higher than in Canada, Japan, South Korea and the USA. These countries, as well as Australia, have higher participation of adults in education, especially at tertiary level. In most European countries, total per capita public expenditure on vocational education and training is on a par with Australia, Canada, South Korea and the United States, and higher than in Japan. But total private expenditure, including by households, is much lower in Europe, with the exception of Germany and the United Kingdom.

How popular is vocational education and training with young people in Europe?

In many countries, initial vocational education and training has a long tradition dating back to the Middle Ages or at least to the Industrial Revolution. However, while it is very strong in some countries, it has a relatively low status in others. Its nature, role and status depend on the individual socio-economic context and labour market characteristics of each country.

In recent years, the increasing need to meet current and future labour market demands has triggered reforms aimed at making Europe's highly diverse education systems and qualifications more transparent, effective and attractive.

At present, about half of all students enrolled in upper secondary education participate in vocational programmes. However, the EU average masks significant differences, with participation rates of almost 80% in some countries and less than 15% in others.

Chart 1: Students in upper secondary vocational streams as percentage of the total number of students in upper secondary education (ISCED 3), 2006

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

Source: Eurostat (UOE), 2006

To find out more:

European Commission: Vocational education and training:

European Commission: Leonardo da Vinci programme

European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training:

European Training Foundation (EU agency which supports education and training in countries surrounding the EU):

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