What the new Education Programme foresees in the field of vocational education and training

The new Education Programme (EP), which continues the SESGOP from the previous programming period was finally approved on 8th August. The programme provides support for both general and vocational education and training (VET). In this area, there are 8 interventions/activity types foreseen, half of which targetting vocational classes in school education and the other half targetting higher education institutions and their professions. What does the Education Programme foresee in the field of VET?

The SESGOP of the last programming period had concentrated its impact primarily on improving the quality of education and access to education in mainstream schools. Vocational schools have also been included in some of the interventions, with many heads and teachers repeatedly providing evidences for the need for more targeted impact in the VET field. In the new programming period, the Education Programme has allocated a specific Priority 3. LINKING EDUCATION TO LABOUR MARKET. It continues the activities started in the previous period and further enriches them with many others.

Priority 3 provides support in 8 areas:

1. Adapting VET to labour market dynamics:

 – Developing and implementing a new List of Vocational Education and Training Professions (LVETP), National Education Standards (NES), curricula, national examination programmes, including cross-sectoral, sector-specific, etc., through the use of Sector Skills Councils for collaborative working between schools and other VET providers, businesses, etc.

 – Introduction of pre-vocational training, flexible pathways, micro-qualifications and credits in VET for mobility and transferability between professions, sectors and levels of education. This innovative activity is also intended as a drop- out prevention for students in vocational schools and other schools with vocational classes. It aims to enable students at risk of dropping out to be retained in classrooms by including them in new vocational fields. It will also provide an opportunity for dropouts to be quickly reintegrated back into school without having to miss grades and years. The problem of drop-out at secondary level, especially in vocational schools, is currently very serious and the Operation will provide an opportunity for the Ministry of Education (a specific beneficiary of the future project) and the participating schools to find specific solutions.

 – Introduction of competent profiles for teachers and vocational trainers and their training in specific skills;

 – Joint development and implementation of vocational training materials for sectors important for the region’s economy and labour market with innovative digital learning content, use of artificial intelligence, virtual reality and blended learning.

2.Supporting skills development for the professions of the present and future:

 – Involving trainers from business, science, public and non-governmental sectors and young teachers in additional vocational training, mentoring and introductory modular trainings for their inclusion in VET. Recent years experience shows that involvement of business and civil sector professionals as teachers is highly successful and leads to greater interest from students as well as increases the quality of vocational education. Therefore, the Operation foresees the possibility for vocational schools, as well as other schools with vocational classes, to involve professionals from different public spheres as teachers after they have undergone induction training in VET.

 – Qualification of vocational teachers through specialized training related to transition to digital and green economy, blue growth, industry 5.0, ISIS;

 – Improving students’ transversal and key competences in vocational training, entrepreneurial skills, etc. with employers’ participation; overcoming gaps in general education subjects;

 – Career and vocational guidance of students, information campaigns to increase the attractiveness of VET and strengthen the student/parent-employer-school-local government partnership;

 – Further vocational training through support for training companies and additional practices in a real work environment.

These two interventions have already been approved by the Monitoring Committee on 23/06/22. They were merged into one systemic project to be implemented by the Ministry of Education and Science (as a specific beneficiary). It is the commitment of the Ministry of Education to develop a mechanism for the involvement of schools with the participation of … vocational schools, and schools with vocational classes. In practice, this will be the first major systemic project in VET. The MES is expected to launch this project in the new school year.

3.Support for the VET Centers for High Achievements (CHA):

 – Development of school curricula and programmes;

 – Application of innovative teaching and learning methods: project-oriented learning, interdisciplinary approach, internships, apprenticeships, incubators for entrepreneurs, etc. to acquire high-tech skills;

 – Continuing qualification of teachers and lecturers in partnership with business and Universities by conducting “business teaches” formats, master classes with top teachers, business and science academies with prominent specialists;

Identifying needs and organize enrollment plan in the CHA; implement quality indicator framework and surveys from the graduation tracking mechanism;

 – Partnerships with Universities, scientific and research organisations and companies, active in similar fields and professional areas to direct students towards Research and Development through classes, joint projects, etc.;

 – Information and communication activities, vocational competitions, Vocational Skills Week and more;

 – To support international cooperation with other VET Centres through the use of online learning content platforms, joint training programmes or practices, etc., ensuring synergies with Erasmus+, including through complementary support. The National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) will support the repair/equipment of CHE, and soft measures will be implemented in parallel under the PO. Activities to identify needs and implement a tracking mechanism for graduating students will be complemented by the tools and models for strategic assessment of workforce needs, foreseen in the Human Resources Development Programme (this is the other programme co-financed by the European Social Fund in Bulgaria. It is managed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.) 

4.Development of dual training system in VET, including:

 – Additional vocational training for students, awareness campaigns, teacher and mentor training, career guidance, trial apprenticeships focusing on digital, green economy, blue growth, industry 5.0 and ISIS.

Over the last decade, dual training has established itself as a successful way of linking vocational education to the needs of business. The number of schools implementing dual training is steadily increasing. The Education Programme plans to support this process and reach a minimum of 358 schools.

Interventions 3 and 4 will be implemented through the ITI – Integrated Territorial Investments approach. This is a new approach for the whole European Union, which foresees that specific project proposals will be implemented in specific territories – groups of municipalities, a region, districts or parts of neighbouring districts.

The specific needs and operations at local and regional level will be defined in the Integrated Territorial Development Strategies (ITDS) of the Level 2 planning regions approved by the Regional Development Councils. The identified programme activities under the ITI approach will be implemented on the basis of integrated concepts, which will be prepared and implemented in partnership between different local stakeholders (municipalities, NGOs, educational institutions, employers, etc.), with a view to maximising the impact on the territory concerned. Each concept will comprise a set of interlinked and complementary projects/project ideas targeting an area with common characteristics and/or development potential, involving the most appropriate combination of resources and measures to be used in a targeted way to implement a specific objective or priority of the integrated spatial strategy of the area. Thus, the identified VE projects within the ITI concept will be implemented in coordination with projects under the other programmes providing funding under the same concept.

5.Introduction of forms of dual training in higher education specialties, including:

 – Creation of conditions for the introduction of dual training in higher education, taking into account international experience, business and university attitudes, through the preparation of legal documents, manuals, training materials, templates of agreements between Universities, employers and trainees, with the participation of social partners;

 – Pilot introduction of dual training in higher education and other forms of collaborative learning (incubators, pre-accelerators, mentoring programmes, innovation camps, etc.) in pilot areas such as technical, computer, engineering sciences, with the participation of employers. Trainings for teachers and mentors.

The Education Programme is to support the introduction of dual training in appropriate subjects in at least 5 higher education institutions. So far, this approach has not been implemented in a targeted way in higher education. Individual universities, on the basis of their initiative and concluded contracts with the business sector, have already tried such activities. It is still difficult to say how this intervention will be implemented and what success it would achieve. It is likely to be implemented through the ITI approach.

6.Career guidance of students through internships and development of entrepreneurial skills, including:

– Implement a graduate tracking system, support alumni clubs, create a platform for sharing experiences and support;

 – Training of teachers in Universities to increase project competence in order to be occupied in European and other projects and networks, incl. the ones in multicultural and multilingual environment; to introduce educational programmes for promoting students’ entrepreneurship and employability skills by organising inter-, trans- and trans-disciplinary student teams in partnership between Universities, business and the NGO sector;

 – Training of students to form entrepreneurial attitudes, skills and competence, including financial literacy, project management, including green technologies, bioeconomy and health, etc.;

 – Encouraging educational entrepreneurship and innovation in Universities, stimulating socially engaged activities of students and lecturers through the establishment of social entrepreneurship and innovation clubs, support programmes for student start-ups and support for starting their own businesses or other types of entrepreneurial activity by university students, postgraduates and lecturers, updating curricula to develop skills for educational/social entrepreneurship, etc.: such support will be used for the first time under the Education Programme.

 – Conducting additional student internships in Universities, research organisations and companies, based on an assessment of students’ career orientation: student internships were successfully supported under SESGOP during the last programming period. After initial difficulties, primarily related to the modalities and rhythm of payments from the managing authority to the universities, a balanced approach was gradually found, allowing tens of thousands of students to undergo a variety of student internships. This is expected to continue in the new programming period.

7.Strengthening the competency-based approach in important for the region economy and labor market professional areas, in partnership with the business, expanding digital competencies and digital educational content in HE, through:

 – Introduction of competency-based joint programmes, including for continuing education between Universities and employers – interdisciplinary, with shared resources and joint diplomas, by strengthening the interdisciplinary approach in curriculum and programme preparation, involving lecturers from different scientific fields and professional areas, including for joint training of students between Universities and scientific organisations;

 – Introduction of e-based curricula and digital educational content, digital libraries and resources at HE level;

 – Short-term mobility and internships of students and lecturers in Universities and research organisations aiming up-skilling and exchange of experience in relation to newly introduced collaborative and digital programmes, through complementarity with Erasmus+ and focus on students from vulnerable groups;

 – Developing digital and specialised foreign language skills of students and lecturers through additional training;

 – Involving lecturers from abroad and prominent scholars and practitioners from business and public administration in academic classes;

 – Implementing a model for validation of prior non-formal and informal learning outcomes with business, based on the EHEA agenda.

8.Access to HE for vulnerable groups, disadvantaged groups and non-teaching staff:

– Training of non-teaching staff with secondary education, including educational mediators, students from hard-to- reach and underdeveloped areas and from vulnerable groups in order to apply to Universities; provision of application materials, etc., promotion of opportunities for admission and training in Universities through information and volunteer campaigns, “open doors”, etc.;

– Implementing models for social inclusion and adaptation of different groups of students, mentoring/tutoring, work with representatives of the academic and student community, etc.

This Operation is essential to support the inclusion of students from vulnerable groups in higher education. A serious problem at present is the low percentage of graduates from the Roma community as well as from the Turkish minority, poor families, rural communities. This problem is also very serious for the group of young people with disabilities.

The operation provides support for students in grade 12 (including motivational and community campaigns among parents) and for students already enrolled in higher education. The support provided will be for the payment of semester fees, mentoring/tutoring by teachers, etc.

The Education Programme provides €14 million for this Operation.

At the end of the last programming period (currently) SESGOP tried to implement an Operation to improve access to higher education for vulnerable groups. It did not receive adequate interest from potential applicant organisations and instead of the expected 50-70 projects worth BGN 7 million only 7 project proposals were submitted. The reason for this was the extremely short implementation period of the projects – from September 2022 to December 2023, which does not coincide with the school and academic years. Moreover, the Operation foresaw support only for the transition from secondary to tertiary education and had to include students in grade 12 who would then apply and be admitted to the first year at any of the universities. Thus, they would be supported by the Operation for one semester only (even not for the full semester). The latter has led potential applicant organisations to refrain from submitting project proposals, as accepted students would only receive semester fee coverage for one semester and risk dropping out for economic reasons afterwards.

The Operation in the new programming period needs to be announced operationally quickly and requires a duration of several years. It is important that it would provide support for students not only in their first year, but also afterwards – if students from poor families are involved, they should be supported over a longer period of their studies.



Deyan Kolev