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‘Can collaboration widen participation?

Examining the evidence’, 10th Anniversary Conference of the


European Access Network, University of Glasgow, Scotland, 24-27 June 2001

Opening doors: European collaboration in enhancing guidance and counselling for


groups under-represented in higher education
Dr Pamela M Clayton, Department of Adult and Continuing Education, University of
Glasgow

Summary
This paper demonstrates the role of a number of related projects, funded through the Leonardo da
Vinci Programme of the European Communities and involving Partner organisations from the Czech
Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden
and the United Kingdom, in attempting to improve participation in education for under-represented
groups through research and pilot projects on:
• provision of vocational guidance and counselling for women returners
• access issues for people at risk of social exclusion
• key elements of guidance for people at risk of social exclusion
• labour market insertion of young long-term unemployed graduate women
• women’s career development
• an on-line course for guidance para-professionals
• criteria for the correct placement in education of women immigrants
• the role of the social Partners (employers and trade unions) in guidance for low-paid
workers
Brief descriptions of these projects are found in the Appendix to this paper. The target groups include:
• women
• ethnic minorities
• refugees
• people with disabilities
• people in rural areas and outlying housing estates
• homeless people
• low-paid workers and workers with precarious work futures
• guidance para-professionals who need to gain qualifications and intensify their knowledge
I shall briefly describe the projects and focus on the ways in which European collaboration added
value through:
• an appreciation of the differences and commonalities between different European states
• the development of European concepts and a shared ethos concerning people at risk of
marginalisation
• the exchange, transfer and dissemination of ideas and initiatives

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Introduction
When I use the word ‘we’ I am speaking on behalf of the many Partnerships in which I have been
involved, either as a member or as project co-ordinator.
I must confess at the outset that the ultimate aim of our projects is to encourage people into lifelong
learning in general, and not only into higher education. We have focused on vocational guidance as
the key to unlocking the potential that we believe every individual possesses, whatever their personal,
social or health difficulties. What we have explored are the barriers to such self-fulfilment and ways
in which these can be overcome.
Learning in its widest, truest sense can raise self-confidence and provide an enjoyable, interesting
experience and enhance life. It can also be devastating for adults to return to learning, perhaps after an
unfortunate first experience, and then to fail again. The guidance process itself provides ‘learning
experiences to enable clients to acquire knowledge, skills and competencies related to making
personal, educational and career decisions’ (Clark, 1999, p. 10), including the best choice of course
for them. Furthermore, for those who do choose to return to learning, good quality guidance is
extremely important in the negotiation of the maze of learning opportunities currently on offer and
their costs. For people at risk of social exclusion such guidance may be indispensable.
The general format for the project in which I have been involved includes:
• face-to-face Partner meetings in as many of the Partner countries as possible, generally
three per year, for team-building as well as task co-ordination
• visits to each country by the project co-ordinator, for monitoring and evaluation, plus
support, consultation and learning at first hand about the local situation
• team negotiation and agreement on the detailed tasks of the project
• initial fact-finding in each country
• generation of case studies and so on in each country
• joint work on conclusions and recommendations

The value of European collaboration

An appreciation of the differences and commonalities between different European states


The starting point for the project is for the team to explore in which ways their countries differ from
other European countries and what they have in common. This exploration brings to light not only
different administrative arrangements, systems, policies, histories and so on, but also different
cultures, academic traditions, prevailing philosophies and conceptual frameworks and approaches.
The difference between the stereotypically ‘pragmatic’ approaches of the British and Irish and the
‘theoretical’ approaches of almost everyone else is probably one well-known example. In terms of
Lewin’s learning cycle, however, these approaches are not opposed but basically start at different
points. Whereas the pragmatic approach might start with concrete experience before going on to
observation and reflection, then ‘the formation of abstract concepts and generalisations’, and then the
‘testing of the implications of the concepts in new situations’ leading to further concrete experience
etc. (Kolb 1993 p. 139), the theoretical approach might start with the formation of theory and abstract
concepts and continue from there. Over time, we have learnt to incorporate the methodological
approaches of, say, the Italians, into the pragmatic approach of my projects, and both parties appear to
be learning from this process. These different approaches also add a richness and diversity to our end
results.
Thus, by learning from each other, we can develop mutual understanding and capitalise on these

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differences rather than allowing them to become barriers; and the revelation of differences adds to our
historical, political, cultural and sociological knowledge of the complex area known as Europe.
In practice, in our field, we generally find more commonalities than differences. For example, groups
most at risk of social exclusion are more-or-less the same everywhere (there are exceptions - for
example, Finns see no disadvantage in living in rural areas), and this means that many ideas can be
transferred from one country to another, albeit with modifications to take into account the differences.
Both the differences and the commonalities are useful and interesting to those of us who are academic
researchers; they are also important for engendering European solidarity and a common identity based
on a knowledge and appreciation of our rich diversity as well as our shared history and culture.

The development of European concepts and a shared ethos concerning people at risk of
marginalisation
Through full discussion of concepts we arrive at common working definitions for use in the project
and in this sense we develop European concepts. This involves a certain amount of compromise, a lot
of learning and sometimes a little controversy - but never, so far, conflict. This is avoided in a variety
of ways of which I shall give only three examples.
The first lies in choice of partners. It helps if the co-ordinator knows all the partners beforehand or has
recommendations from a trusted source. Before the project it is the job of the co-ordinator to develop
good personal relations with future partners even if this can be conducted only through email. For
practical reasons, it is preferable for the team to have a single common language and for all members
to have a reasonable degree of competence in that language. The team should be constructed
principally, however, on the basis of what different members can bring to it, and these attributes can
be very different. For example, my current project team, which aims to enhance vocational guidance
for low-paid employees, includes a trade union official, the head of a private enterprise, a human
resource development project manager with a multinational company, employees of a state
employment service, a university guidance officer and a number of academic researchers from
universities and labour market research centres. They represent, on the face of it, rather different
interests.
The second way of avoiding conflict is through building on a common ethos. Whatever the
employment backgrounds of the team members, it is important that they all know from the time of
developing the project proposal whose interests are principally to be served by the project. In the case
of my projects, this means people at risk of social exclusion. Although in our dissemination we might
give different emphases to different targets (for example, when speaking to employers we focus on
the interests of the company, whereas for trade unions we emphasise the interests of their members),
we cannot be two-faced in the partnership. This ethos is reinforced throughout the project through
meetings and other discussions.
The third way is through team-building. The bringing together of people from different backgrounds,
countries and languages is also, in my view, the job of the co-ordinator and one that I take very
seriously. Part of my method includes the simple expedient of us all staying in the same hotel and
taking all our meals together! It is also important that the culture of partner meetings should be
egalitarian, mutually supportive and respective of persons. Every voice must be heard and decisions
as far as possible negotiated.

The exchange, transfer and dissemination of ideas and initiatives


Our partnerships have undoubtedly exchanged ideas, information and examples of good practice, and
dissemination has always been an important part of our strategy (see below for list of publications
arising out of projects - many of these are in widely-read journals rather than academic articles).
Dissemination is carried out not only through publishing but also through conferences, either project
conferences or conferences like this one; through delivering workshops; through distributing publicity
leaflets through networks; through the Internet to listserves and mailbases; and through direct contact
with, for example, guidance services, educational providers, voluntary organisations, policy-makers,
employers and trade unions.
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But what of transfer? This is the crux of my answer to the conference question, Can collaboration
widen participation?
Our aim is to affect policy and practice, with the ultimate aim of benefiting people at risk of social
exclusion. Since our projects aim to improve practice in vocational guidance, we begin at two
removes from individuals entering lifelong learning: with the exception of two projects, we do not
deliver courses and we do not even deliver guidance. So I do not know in general if the projects in
which I have been involved have had concrete results in terms of individuals entering education who
would not otherwise have done so. One exception is the Socrates project described below; another
will be, we hope, a proposal submitted this year to the European Commission.
I do not even know if guidance practitioners have adopted any of our ideas, although I have
sometimes discovered that people in related fields such as community development have done so. We
do appear to have contributed to raising the profile of guidance and the issues of access and good
practice in reaching people who are hard to reach. Other than that, the effects of our efforts are
unknown or perhaps even non-existent.
The hardest task for us is to influence policy at national level. At our recent United Kingdom
conference on women immigrants no policy-makers accepted our invitation.
I have, however, found the British Leonardo unit very helpful, and we have good relations with the
Scottish Executive. Regarding my current project, the Czech partner has close relations with the
Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labour. The Icelandic and Danish partners
are important members of official bodies. The Spanish partner is itself a regional body. The Italian
and German partners work for labour market research institutes which carry out commissions for,
among others, their respective regions. The Swedish partner is a state employment office.
I think there are two lessons to be drawn from this:
• efforts to influence policy are best rewarded in countries with small populations or at regional level
• partnerships need to include members who are working in the field or have a high regional or
national profile
Despite the difficulties of actually making much of a difference, I firmly believe that European
collaboration is extremely fruitful, very important and, I have to say, thoroughly enjoyable!

APPENDIX
Brief descriptions of the projects
The origin of most of these projects lies in the work done by Eurocounsel, a large-scale European
project on vocational guidance for adults.
All of the following projects were funded by the European Commission through what used to be
Directorate 22, now the Directorate for Education and Youth. From 1996 onwards the funding has
been from the Leonardo da Vinci Programme of the European Communities, which focuses on
education, training and vocational guidance. Just one of these projects was funded through the
Socrates programme.

Vocational guidance and counselling for women returners, 1994


This was a pilot research project, Vocational Guidance and Counselling for Women Returners, headed
by CIRCE, a German research network. Partners in France, Germany, Ireland, Spain and the United
Kingdom reviewed labour market issues for women returners and made case studies of provision in
each country. The outcomes were a report, a book (Chisholm 1997), an article to disseminate the
project (Clayton 1996) and an academic article which drew upon this research (Clayton & Slowey
1996).

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The Insertion of Young Graduate Women into the Labour Market, 1995
This pilot project was headed by INREP, a French training institute, with Partners in Finland,
Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom. The outcomes were a very innovative jobsearch method, a
report (unpublished and only in French) and the insertion of a dozen long-term unemployed women
with ethnic minority backgrounds into good-quality employment.

Access to Vocational Guidance for People at Risk of Social Exclusion, 1996 - 1998
A Survey and Analysis co-ordinated by myself, this had Partners from Finland, Ireland, Italy and the
United Kingdom, with the addition of observers from the Czech Republic for part of the project. This
project was conceived with quite a depth of detail and all Partners did essentially the same research
for each country. We looked at social exclusion and made case studies of guidance services which
were notable for their efforts to enhance access. There was scope for negotiation on methodology and
of necessity on content. For example, there was little on lifelong learning for the Italian Partner to
contribute, and few conventional guidance services in Ireland. This diversity led to a richness. The
outcome was a report, in English (Clayton, 1999a) which was circulated not only in Europe but in
many other countries, including Australia, Canada, Chile, India, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New
Zealand and the USA, by email and download from a website. There is also an Italian version. Other
articles were published for dissemination purposes (Clayton 1998a, 1998b, 1999b, 1999c). There were
also academic articles which drew on this research (Clayton 2000, Clayton et al. 1999, and Clayton &
McGill 2000).

The legal status of women in the European Union, 1996 - 1999


This project was co-ordinated by Université Paris VIII, with partners from the Universities of
Cordoba, Glasgow, Helsinki, Lleida and Roma. The University of Glasgow was represented by
myself, Professor Maria Slowey of the Department of Adult and Continuing Education and Professor
Noreen Burrows of the School of Law. The outputs were a publication in print (Azzoug & Demichel
1999) and on the web. FIND URL. From the point of view of this presentation, the most interesting
outcome was the delivery of a university-level course based on the material we all generated. The
students were women with low educational qualifications, recruited through a women’s group in the
east of Scotland, and the feedback from them was extremely positive - the main complaint was that
the course finished!

Bridging the Gap: the role of vocational guidance in women’s career development, 1997 - 1999
This Survey and Analysis was led by University College Cork, with Partners in Germany,
Luxembourg, Spain and the United Kingdom. It reviewed the ways in which women do - or do not -
advance their careers, and included case studies of both individual women and of guidance services
which aimed to help them. It is not yet published but the writer of this paper intends to publish an
academic article on the findings.

Access to Vocational Guidance for People at Risk of Social Exclusion: an on-line module 1998 -
2001
This arose out of the previous project and had Partners from Denmark, Finland, Italy, Scotland and
the Czech Republic, with co-ordination by myself. The Danish Partner, an expert both in guidance
and in curriculum development, drafted the curriculum; the Scottish Partner developed the website;
the Czech Partner generated most of the Czech data; the other Partners edited their contributions to
the original Survey and Analysis. The output was an in-service, on-line module for guidance
practitioners and para-professionals, in Czech, English, Finnish and Italian, piloted in Spring 2000

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(Clayton & Plant 2000, Plant 1999a, 1999b, 1999c, 2000a, 2000b). This is being launched on a
regular basis in all the countries which took part in the project. It is intended that the English-language
version will be delivered globally.

Development of European Concepts Concerning the Qualifications and Competencies of


Women Immigrants Useful for their Vocational Training, 1999 - 2001
This was a pilot project, led by GATE in Hamburg, Germany, with Partners in Denmark, the Czech
Republic and the United Kingdom. We made case studies of over a hundred immigrant women and
recommendations to educational providers concerning their insertion at the correct level and the
validation of their prior experiential learning and competences. The outputs were conferences in the
four Partner countries (the conference proceedings of the United Kingdom conference are available
from the author of this paper and will shortly appear on the Web on the University of Glasgow site,
Department of Adult and Continuing Education) and a website owned by GATE. Maria Slowey and I
intend to publish an academic article on it and I shall publish an article for dissemination purposes,
probably in Adults Learning. A follow-up project delivering training is under consideration by the
European Commission.

The social Partners and vocational guidance for low-paid workers, 2000 - 2002
This is my latest project, with Partners in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland,
Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The output will be an informational
website (www.gla.ac.uk/wg - currently under construction), which will include the results of pilot
projects in each country, and a variety of articles and news items from the different Partners. All the
material will be translated into English, but material pertaining to, say, Iceland, will generally be only
in Icelandic and English. The amount of cross-translation depends on the budget. The aim for most
Partners is to institute and evaluate vocational guidance for low-paid workers in co-operation with
employers and trade unions; in countries where examples of good practice already exist a limited
number of full evaluations will be carried out, together with a series of descriptive case studies.

Bibliography (with apologies for large numbers of my own publications - but


dissemination and, we hope, transfer, are extremely important aspects of our projects)
Azzoug, M. & Demichel, T. (Eds) (1999). The Legal Status of Women in the European Union, in Le
fil d’Ariane, Special issue Spring 1999. Publication of the Institute of European Studies, University of
Paris 8 (also on the Web through the University of Helsikni)
Chisholm, L. (1997). Getting In, Climbing Up and Breaking Through: vocational guidance and
counselling for women returners. Bristol: The Policy Press
Clark, J. (1999). ‘Adult guidance: not just a signpost’, Concept, vol. 9, no. 1, pp 10-12
Clayton, P (1996). ‘A transnational study of vocational guidance and counselling provision for
women returners’, Adults Learning October 1996, pp 40-41
Clayton, P. (1998a). ‘Access issues in vocational guidance and counselling’, Adults Learning,
September 1998
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Liberal Adult Education, Issue 10, November 1998, pp 3-4
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and freely downloadable from http://www.gla.ac.uk/Acad/AdultEd/Research/Leonardo.html Also in
Italian.
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research’, International Journal of Lifelong Learning 2000
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