This week (06-10 June), a delegation from Wales’ further education sector is visiting the Basque Country in order to explore innovation in post-16 education and training and links with SMEs.
The delegation, led by ColegauCymru and funded by Erasmus+, are blogging on their observations. Here is their entry from the third day, following visits to Lea Artibai college and Mondragon Cooperation.
Day 3 of the #InnovateFE delegation in the Basque Country continued to highlight the benefits of having a collaborative and commercial outlook.
Our first visit of the day was to the Lea Artibai college nestled in the mountains. The journey there had a few of us wanting to get off as we twirled and whirled up the Pyrenees before dropping down deep into the valley on the other side.
We received a warm welcome by the impressive Principal, Isabel Mendiguren, followed by a presentation and a tour of the food processing department and lean manufacturing facilities.
It was clear that the Basque region’s stakeholders take a structured and co-ordinated approach to driving innovation. We heard that the college supports businesses to grow organically, driven by a collaborative ethos and a shared end goal.
Our second visit of the day was to the Modragon Cooperation, which comprises a university, as well as vocational and management training centres. It was an impressive site and we were blown away with the generosity and openness of our hosts, Dr Pedro Urteaga and Gorka Aretxaga Urkiola. They treated the 15 delegates to a traditional six course lunch (commonly eaten at 2.30pm) in a beautiful restaurant. Delicious.
Over lunch and indeed throughout the day, there was much serious discussion and dialogue on the need for change.
The economic models adopted by the Basque region demonstrate a keen sense of responsibility for developing the social environment within local communities. These common goals encourage openness, collaboration and partnership working which are mutually beneficial. It enables focus on a single objective: economic development.
The sense of place, shared goals and national pride is tangible in all elements of activity. Investments in community and economic programmes are respectful of culture and heritage.
We saw that there was very much a sense of ‘we are in this together’ with a deep rooted set of shared values which focuses on developing the Basque country. There is a clear sense of place and purpose based on traditional values and a common goal to ‘develop our area’ in order to build for the future. We reflected that the only times we see such displays of comradery in Wales is when Wales competes at sporting events. Why is that, we kept on wondering?
Key to how the Basque region operates is a recognition of the economic benefits associated with developing SMEs. The delegation considered the strong argument that a sustained financial commitment for the further education sector could enable SMEs to have better access to their specialist vocational and academic resources. The applied nature of further education provides a strong platform for knowledge transfer which has the potential to be further exploited in order to drive generational change across Wales, as it does in the Basque region.
In Wales, we are very proud of the specialist skills within our further education sector. They provide support, guidance and creativity to large companies as well as SMEs. There exists exemplary practice across Wales, often aligned to the willingness of individuals to take risk and drive change. Reflecting on what we saw in the Basque country, however, we could see that Wales had a lot of potential for more success and that the further education sector could, in the right environment, better support SMEs to grow organically.
We were all in agreement that one barrier to collaboration in Wales was the current funding challenge. It creates tension and uncertainty. It makes strategic planning difficult.
The reality is that our colleagues in the Basque region have a clear strategic commitment to supporting further education institutions to nurture SMEs. Sustained financial commitment enables institutions, policy makers and employers to cooperate openly and without fear, very much working towards a collective goal.
The Mondragon Cooperation demonstrates the true essence of partnership working. It is achieving sustained long term economic growth. Jose Maria Ariznendiarrieta, the founder, relayed the philosophy:
‘However splendid the present might be, it is destined to fail if it turns its back on the future’
‘A sign of vitality is not to endure but to be reborn and to adapt’.
One thing is clear, close working relationships between business and education, supported by TKINIA driving the collaboration ethos at the heart, is working. Most learners go from college straight into employment and businesses are engaging with colleges for their training and use of their facilities, thereby avoiding costly machine purchases. Industry supports the colleges and the colleges support industry.
What about a TKNIKA model here in Wales to support college and businesses collaboration? These are certainly questions and discussions we need to return to.
This visit has supported ColegauCymru’s vision and mission of leading the education, training and skills sector to drive economic and social sustainability in Wales through working with our members to learn and experience best practice from overseas. It is never easy to find like for like comparisons, but implementing best practice is something that we are eager and committed to doing.
We are grateful to Eramsus+ for funding the delegation’s visit. It was a memorable experience, thought provoking, as well as practical: we have developed sound contacts with the potential for further exchanges and engagement.
Thank you to the #InnovateFE delegation members for jointly contributing to the blog. The 15 members include representation from: ColegauCymru / CollegesWales, The College Merthyr Tydfil, Coleg y Cymoedd, NPTC Group of Colleges, Cardiff & Vale College, Pembrokeshire College, Coleg Sir Gâr, Grwp Llandrillo Menai, Coleg Cambria, and the Welsh Government.