Introduction on Alliances for Innovation and Centres of Vocational Excellence

A Training and Cooperation Activity under Erasmus+ was held in Bergen on 23 October-25 October 2023. Odd Bjørn Ure gave an introducion on this Transnational Nordic contact seminar, which had a cross-sectoral focus on Alliances for Innovation and Centres of Vocational Excellence. These are two actions under the Erasmus+ programme. The seminar was a joint activity organised by the Nordic national agencies in charge of Erasmus+.

SKILLS AND EMPLOYMENT UNDER AUTOMATION – active adaptation at the local level

Odd Bjørn Ure, Tom Skauge: SKILLS AND EMPLOYMENT UNDER AUTOMATION – active adaptation at the local level. International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training, Vol 6 No 3 (2019).

The authors describe how patterns of employment and qualifications are modified by the ongoing industrial transformation, called Industry 4.0. This is done by analysing technological renewal by means of Computerised Numeric Control (CNC) and robotics in a Norwegian network of mechanical firms. The article identified certain room for strategic choices when new technology is integrated in work organisations by means of (re-)training of workers. This implies that corporate self-interest is weighted with the common interests within a local community and inside a Manufacturing Industry Association, – to the extent that the firm’s profitability is not at stake. The fact that training to avoid lay-offs is normally subsidised by the Public Employment Services facilitates this pattern.

THE EU INTRODUCTION OF LEARNING OUTCOMES: Norms and Standards versus Transparency and Comparability of Qualifications?

Odd Bjørn Ure (2022): The EU Introduction of Learning Outcomes: Norms and Standards versus Transparency and Comparability of Qualifications?, International Journal of Public Administration
The article contributes to a debate about theoretical perspectives able to capture central characteristics of the education policies of the European Union, in this case the introduction of Learning Outcomes. The empirical material sustaining the article suggests that discourse theories serve this purpose in so far as they are supplemented by reform theories and institutional perspectives on education and training. Our conclusion is that the theoretical strand ‘discursive institutionalism’ is useful for combining these theories.


Ure, Odd Björn: Learning Outcomes as a Social Construct and Example of Boundary Crossing Between Societal Sectors.
Paper presented at the 4th Crossing Boundaries Conference in Vocational Education and Training.
Published in: C. Nägele, B.E. Stalder, & M. Weich (Eds.), Pathways in Vocational Education and Training and Lifelong Learning. Proceedings of the 4th Crossing Boundaries Conference in Vocational Education and Training, Muttenz and Bern online, 8. – 9. April 2021 (pp. 342–347).
European Research Network on Vocational Education and Training, VETNET, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland and Bern University of Teacher Education.

An enlarged version of the paper is available here:
O.B. Ure_enlarged conference paper_25-4-2021

The original conference paper can be downloaded at:

Validation of non-formal and informal learning in Norway – new country report

Ure, O. B. (2019). European inventory on validation of non-formal and informal learning. 2018 update: Norway.

Every second year, European Commission services take stock of how various countries put into action the European Council Recommendation on validation of non-formal and informal learning, which dates back to 2012. The 2018 update to the European Inventory on validation is a project managed by ICF, under the supervision of a steering committee formed by the Commission and two EU agencies (Cedefop and ETF). The country update for Norway was produced by Odd Bjørn Ure, CONSULTUR Studies&Analyses.

Since the 2016 update to the European Inventory, Norwegian validation practices as a whole have not been modified. Overall, the take-up of validation is reported as stable in Norway. Yet to follow up a 2016 white paper, validation of competencies has been modified for vocational colleges (ISCED levels 4 and 5). Also, exemption from part of programmes on the basis of non-formal and informal learning has been transferred from regulation to law, to make the legal framework more similar to that for higher education. Another recent initiative facilitates more rapid documentation and validation of skills held by refugees and immigrants. Finally, Norwegian authorities have lately improved the provision of guidance to all learners who want to have their non-formal and informal learning validated and recognised.



New opportunities for cooperation between academia and business are now being discussed for the years 2021-2027, in other words the second period of the Erasmus+ programme. Following a proposal from the European Commission, the Parliament issued in March 2019 a resolution on the continuation of Erasmus+ in which future support to projects under the label ‘European Universities‘ is foreseen.

The European Parliament (EP) states that the ‘European Universities’ should be excellence-driven in order to improve cooperation between research, innovation and education. However, the EP qualifies that excellence should be broadly interpreted, for example by involving higher education institutions covering a wide geographical area. From some corners, the first selection of projects under the label ‘European Universities’ was namely criticised for primarily strengthening regions that already had strong ties between research, innovation and education.

The European Parliament resolution also alludes to Sector Skills Alliances and envisages support for developing ‘transnational platforms’ in many forms and shapes: Centres of vocational excellence closely integrated in local and regional strategies for growth, innovation, competitiveness, sustainable development and social inclusion. This multitude of platforms corresponds with how the annual calls for Sector Skills Alliances evolved during the first phase of Erasmus+: towards broader alliances with multiple partners and stakeholders aiming to strengthen certain economic sectors and regions. The European Parliament now points out that the new centres of excellence should act as drivers of high vocational skills, while responding to sectorial challenges and supporting structural changes and socio-economic policies in the Union.

The European Parliament also follows up ideas from the Commission for continuing Knowledge Alliances between higher education and enterprises. The Parliament therefore writes that the new Erasmus+ should support cooperation for developing skills and competences in forward-looking study fields or disciplines. Then follows a long list of examples mirroring economic and societal challenges in which some Knowledge Alliances are already engaged. Among these are clean energy, artificial intelligence, robotics, data analysis and arts/design.

At last, the resolution on the future of Erasmus+ pays attention to Strategic Partnerships in the field of higher education, which presently is a decentralised action under the Erasmus+ programme. This action is handled by the national agencies in each European country. During the next period of the programme, there will be funds for ‘strategic partnerships for cooperation and exchanges of practices’. The text from the European Parliament explains that these will be small-scale partnerships to foster a wider and more inclusive access to the programme. In other words, very close to how Strategic Partnerships have functioned in the first programme period (2014-2020).

In sum, the European Parliament resolution from March 2019 leaves the impression that cooperation between universities and enterprises will be addressed in the new Erasmus+ as follows:

  • Knowledge Alliances often structured along a multi-disciplinary dimension
  • Sector Skills Alliances structured along regional and sectorial dimensions
  • Broader university networks mobilising the research community in a continued European Universities initiative

This attempt to delineate ongoing and future Erasmus+ activities could be a first point of orientation for those interested in the cooperation between universities and enterprises across European countries. And not to forget, setting up Strategic Partnerships remains an opportunity for a mix of old and new university and business partners wanting to submit a small-scale project.

(1) JOINT EFFORTS BETWEEN UNIVERSITIES AND ENTERPRISES: tackling societal challenges and strengthening the economy and labour markets in Europe


The EU programme Erasmus+ offers an opportunity for higher education institutions and enterprises to develop joint training in the form of Knowledge Alliances. I have on several occasions been among the external experts assessing proposals to set up such alliances. Other partnerships are formed in Sector Skills Alliances (SSA), which have broader partnerships for aligning vocational training to labour market needs in specific sectors. SSAs are also financed from Erasmus+ and may comprise universities and other higher education institutions.

For the first time in 2018, the European Union launched the European Universities initiative with a higher budget for stimulating networks of excellence between all kinds of higher education institutions. Having assessed proposals within this initiative, I noticed that it particularly mobilised research universities that want to deepen their ongoing collaboration, while involving more partners around broader societal challenges. Compared with the Knowledge and Sectors Skills Alliances, fewer enterprises take however part in European Universities projects.

In addition, the profile of the applications within the European Universities Initiative is different from what found in the small-scale university projects, called Strategic Partnerships in the field of higher education. I have for some years assessed applications for such partnerships on behalf of the Norwegian national Erasmus+ Agency and, during this work, a certain pattern appears; they are frequently used by a university from one country to initiate cooperation with a few foreign partners.

A next step can therefore to be enlarge the partnership in the frame of a Knowledge Alliance, a Sector Skills Alliance, or even in the frame of the European Universities initiative. Along this line of thought, two Norwegian universities were partners of projects approved after the first call for applications under this initiative, and these two Norwegian universities have sound experiences from partnerships in previous Erasmus+ activities.


Have a look at this blog in the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE). The topic is Soft skills, struggles and broader perspectives – parental leave as an informal learning experience.
Consultur. Studies & Analyses was invited to comment on statements of three learners with experiences from parental leaves.


An article with this title was recently published in the journal Policy Futures in Education. Its author, Odd Bjørn Ure, investigates what is claimed to be a shift towards national and European education systems based on Learning Outcomes. When Learning Outcomes are related to a pedagogical debate, they can easily be positioned to learning theories in which the centredness of the learner is brought to the fore. Learning Outcomes also form part of a package of policies at a national and cross-national level.
Learning Outcomes are therefore often analysed as pedagogical and policy instruments. A third perspective is to consider Learning Outcomes as an organisational instrument. This implies studying the work organisation of educational institutions, as well as the bodies and agencies of importance for disseminating Learning Outcomes.
Another aspect, which the notion organisational instrument can shed light on, is the continuing efforts to improve the performance of education systems by quality control and auditing procedures.
The entire article can be downloaded here:

A follow-up article will closer look at how the introduction of Learning Outcomes is part of a discourse that aims to reform education and training at a national and European level .


Education meets Business or the other Way Round
Since the adoption of the Erasmus+ programme in 2014, the European Union finances Knowledge Alliances between universities and enterprises. Looking back on the projects approved after the annual application rounds, one question is whether the Knowledge Alliances stand out from previous EU support to co-operation between business and academia. Evaluations of the past EU programmes on such co-operation have pointed at the difficult exercise of building a sustainable and long-lasting partnership, without becoming routinized and self-confirming. In short: networks between business and academia need to be innovative and bring novelty.

Let us first recall that Knowledge Alliances are open to any discipline, sector and to cross-sectoral co-operation. The programme guide sets out that such projects between business and academia should have a short and long-term impact on a wide range of labour market stakeholders and institutions. It is further explained that a Knowledge Alliance may involve employers and labour market institutions (more…)

Knowledge Alliances – Deadline for the 2016 Round

Ahead of the February 26th deadline for submitting proposals to set up Knowledge Alliances between universities and enterprises, it is time to look at what kind of partnerships between business and academia that the European Union is co-financing.

Partnerships between business and academia
Let us recall that Knowledge Alliances have to count at least six partners from three countries, of which minimum two enterprises and two higher education institutions. Information from the European Commission says that the projects are open to any discipline, sector and to cross-sectoral co-operation. Such a business/academia alliance should have a short and long-term impact on a wide (more…)

Governance for Learning Outcomes in European Policy-Making:
Qualification Frameworks Pushed through the Open Method of policy Coordination

The article was recently published in the International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training.
The author, Odd Bjørn Ure, discusses the following questions:
1. How can theories on knowledge production inform analyses of governance
of Learning Outcomes and qualification frameworks at a national and
European level?
2. The de facto inclusion of the Learning Outcome discourse in the Open
Method of policy-Coordination accentuates network forms of governance
and multi-level policy-making: how can this pattern regulate the
involvement of societal actors and interest groups affected by this
discourse? (more…)

Lekseleselamper vil ikke tennes i alle hjem med skolebarn

Høsten 2015 blir gradvis mørkere og mørkere, men lekseleselamper vil ikke tennes i alle hjem som huser skolebarn. For det pågår en foreldreaksjonen i Rogaland: “Nå forteller vi skolen at vi fra skolestart høsten 2016 er en Leksefri Familie”.
Lekser kan være så mangt, inkludert meningsløse, – men å avskaffe dem, og med ubehjelpelig formulerte paroler av typen: “Leksefri Familie er satt i gang for å hjelpe foreldre og lærere som har forstått det meningsløse i dette til å sette foten ned”…?? (more…)