Day 2: learning from specialist vocational centres in the Basque Country

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.

Innovation FE Day 2 Group photo of the delegation in the Basque Country

The delegation, led by ColegauCymru and funded by Erasmus+, are blogging on their observations.  Here is their entry from the second day, following visits to Makina Erremintaren Instituta, an Advanced Manufacturing Centre and Tolosaldea an Upper Vocational Training School.


Another early start for team #Innovate FE as we headed off to an industrial area of the Basque Country. We received a warm Welsh welcome from Joxean Egana, Managing Director of IMH, the lead Advanced Manufacturing Centre for the region. He was joined by his colleague Maria, a civil servant who works at the college.  Maria gave us an informative and very interesting presentation on the region and the college’s role, and then went on to interpret for colleagues throughout the morning in excellent English.

The centre certainly runs a smart and specialized curriculum, responsive to local industry needs, specifically advanced manufacturing.The institution’s curriculum of only 11 courses at middle and high levels (levels 3 and 5 respectively) is aligned to the European Qualifications Framework.  Basque language skills are also in demand and as a result the college is a Basque-speaking college.

A school certificate is the minimum requirement for entry into the centre. Learners remain in school until they attain the certificate, and it didn’t appear that the centre needs to up skill learners who do not meet the minimum requirement.

As in Wales, vocational training has traditionally been viewed as the route for those who are less academically able.  The centre is trying to challenge this perception and attract more academically gifted learners onto vocational programmes.  Key statistics that aid them in their efforts are that:

  • 84% of their learners progress directly into employment compared with 67% in Basque Country as a whole
  • 94% of the companies they work with would like to employ a student.

Demand drives supply.

All the vocational education and training (VET) colleges are small, specialized institutions that have excellent links with other colleges, working as clusters to deliver world class education and training to meet employer needs.

The equipment at the college is leading edge and of a higher standard that what the majority of companies have. Working with TKgune, it uses its infrastructure and its knowledge to support SME innovation and success. We were shown around numerous well-equipped workshops including for example one workshop that had five CNC machines worth around 300,000 Euros each.

By contrast, the centre also hosts a museum that emphasises its sense of place in history and that captures the region’s industrial heritage. It demonstrates clearly their pride in the industrial journey. We wondered where were our old machinery had gone to and whether colleges might set up a similar area to demonstrate industrial progress.

A short bus ride later and we arrived in Tolosaldea, an higher level vocational training centre, where we were greeted by the Principal, Joxe Iraetea.  It proved to be another example of an institution in perfect alignment with industry needs.

Knowledge transfer is a key objective in its work in supporting SMEs to improve productivity and efficiency.

It is a given that the role of teachers includes teaching and supporting innovation and commercial development for businesses. The centre employs 67 teachers. Of these, around half are deployed in teaching 600 students; the rest are engaged in commercial activities to support business development. Teachers work for 30 hours a week, teaching for 18 hours per week over 33 weeks, although they are on campus for 35 weeks. Salary scales are similar to those in Wales.

When staff are taken off teaching to work with businesses, the government provides replacement cover from a pool of qualified teachers. This pool of teachers are all Basque speakers: they have to achieve proficiency (CEFR C1) in Basque if they are to teach in the Basque country.  All classes are taught in Basque and some in English. Spanish is spoken but not taught. Multilingualism at its best.

Releasing staff is a normal activity. It appears that this system works well, benefitting teachers by developing their skills and using their knowledge to improve teaching practice. This provides positive outcomes for the SMEs, staff and the students by increasing and strengthening local networks.

Although the college has better equipment than SMEs, it appeared that it would like to be more progressive in its teaching methodologies and that it would like to develop its classrooms to include more creative spaces, similar to what we had seen in TKNIKA the previous day.

Back on to the bus, we were taken up a seriously steep and winding, narrow mountain road to a lovely little restaurant with the most stunning views across the Pyrenees. A rather late lunch at 2.30pm which was – amazing! Fish or steak with some ox tongue, salad, pates and puddings. Local food, well prepared and beautifully served kept us all very contented indeed! Again another day with many questions and ideas on how we can increase collaboration internally and externally when we return home.

Team #InnovateFE are now looking forward to Day 3, and a visit to Mondragon Co-operative.


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.

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About LlinosThomas

llinos.thomas [a] colegaucymru.ac.uk
This entry was posted in Europe, FE Policy, Skills and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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