Clean energy education centres being established in Turku, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and Greece
Last year, secondary and tertiary level vocational education and training (VET) providers in Turku in Finland, Valencia in Spain, Utrecht in the Netherlands, Western Macedonia in Greece and Bochum in Germany launched a cooperation project focusing on sustainable energy education. Funded by the Erasmus+ programme, the purpose of the SEED project is to create regional Centres of Vocational Excellence to tackle the challenges of the future.
“The impetus to the project was provided by the global energy transition,” says Senior Advisor Aleksi Heinonen from the Turku University of Applied Sciences. “The energy transition is changing the world in an all-encompassing manner, and it has been recognised that the VET sector has difficulties responding to the rapidly changing competence needs resulting from it.”
Launched in June 2022, the project is now in the process of establishing Centres of Vocational Excellence consisting of secondary and tertiary level VET providers and local companies in the five participating regions. “This will create a feedback loop, allowing VET to be constantly improved to correspond to the needs of the energy transition and companies,” says Heinonen.
Facilitating broader cooperation
The project will provide the most concrete benefits in the five participating regions. For example, in Valencia, Spain, the project is expected to make a significant impact. “We have had renewable energy VET and companies specialising in renewable energy, but no actual learning community,” says Associate Professor Elena de la Poza from Universitat Politècnica de València.
“Whereas in the past, our university engaged in cooperation with individual VET providers and companies, this funding has made it possible for us to approach the agency regulating all of the region’s VET providers and the lobby group of renewable energy companies, thus allowing us to get all the important actors involved,” de la Poza says. “This would not have been possible without Erasmus+ funding. I believe that we can create a structure for renewable energy education strong enough to endure even after project funding ends.”
Aleksi Heinonen agrees. “The basic funding of tertiary and secondary level VET providers is spread so thin that external funding is a prerequisite for these kinds of projects.”
A clearer path from secondary to tertiary level VET
In Heinonen’s opinion, one important aspect of the project is to provide renewable energy students with clear study paths from secondary level VET to tertiary level VET. “While Turku University of Applied Sciences gets a lot of students who have completed secondary level VET, the majority of secondary level VET graduates immediately enter the employment market or continue their studies at some other higher education institution. As such, one of the things we will be looking at during the project is how we could build better study paths and make tertiary level VET a more attractive option for the region’s VET students.”
This is a major focus in Valencia as well, according to de la Poza. In fact, in her opinion it is one of the best aspects of the Centres of Vocational Excellence funding programme. “It is important for us that this programme emphasises cooperation between higher and lower education levels. In the past, we have engaged in extensive cooperation with companies, but not so much with secondary level VET providers. We do get students from secondary level VET and there are paths in place for this, but we have never focused specifically on them.”
According to de la Poza, the project has also improved cooperation and communication between different VET providers as people have become acquainted and started to create things together. “Like in Finland, in Spain it is typical for students who complete secondary level VET to immediately enter the employment market instead of continuing their studies, which is something that this project will hopefully change,” de la Poza says.
International cooperation provides inspiration
The project will include meetings and workshops and even some major international conferences. In addition to these, the plan is to also organise shared courses and student exchanges.
“The beauty of this project is that we can learn from the other participating regions,” de la Poza says. “We get to see how others have organised cooperation within their consortia, what they have learned and where funding might be available from. All of this gives us strength and new ideas for planning the development of our region.”
According to Aleksi Heinonen, there are major differences between the participating regions. In Greece, agriculture is emphasised, whereas in Turku the focus is on electricity and renewable energy, to name but a couple of examples. “The project aims at identifying regional strengths and needs and disseminating good practices and operating methods to other regions.”
In Heinonen’s opinion, it is only logical for everyday work to focus on local activities in each country, but international cooperation often opens your eyes to different ways of working. “For example, it was very inspiring to visit Germany in April. They had built electric bike charging stations in cooperation with students from various fields, from engineering to communications.”
Project partners can be found via networks
Some of the higher education institutions involved in the project already knew each other beforehand, as energy sector educational institutions have their own international network called Carpe, which convenes a few times a year. The project partners from Turku, Utrecht and Valencia were already members of the network, which has given rise to several collaborative projects in the past.
“It is always important to know most of the project partners before getting involved in a project,” Heinonen says.
“I myself was the coordinator of a project related to Vietnam before,” de la Poza says. “Turku is a very active partner and great to work with.”
Text: Esa Salminen