Due to the strong numeral decline in students in Eastern Germany, science and educational policy since the mid-2000s has been paying closer attention to the question of how to organize the infrastructure of vocational education in rural and peripheric areas. On the one hand, there is an expectation that the ongoing demographic trend might fix the problem of the lack of apprenticeship positions in these areas. This lack has been precarious for a long time. On the other hand, it is unclear to what extent the adapting processes of the infrastructure, such as the closing of vocational schools, might lead to the formation of new spatial disparities. The work in hand deals with the current situation of vocational schools taking the following aspects into account: How can the very complex infrastructure of vocational schools be organized in regions with a low population density as well as with a difficult regional economic situation? What management tools are being applied in the forthcoming process of removing the infrastructure? In which ways are demographic developments, structural factors as well as the actions of various actors influencial here? The research especially focusses on the theoretical and empirical connection between space-related issues and the complexity of vocational schools as institutions that are embedded in the educational as well as the economic system.
The research in hand is an analysis of the vocational school network in Brandenburg and its development since the 1990s. It is empirically also based on a case study of the rural district Uckermark.
Contrary to the assumption of a steep decline of infrastructure provision due to the demographic trend, it is shown that the vocational education in Brandenburg has been characterized by a relative stability since the 2000s. However, there has been a spatial thinning process in the range of trained professions. In 2013, an area-wide vocational school network existed only for 41% of all young trainees in Brandenburg. The subsidiarity principle, a common understanding of profession among the relevant actors as well as the concept of a certain geographic balance proved to be factors for successful management processes. Successful interventions against the closing of vocational infrastructures were mainly based on the educational organizations’ strong, professional “self-confidence” and high standards. In contrast to that, unspecific attempts against peripherization did not result in effective strategies. A part of the ongoing developments in the area of vocational training is embedded in a strong institutional change due to the expansion of private vocational schools. The infrastructural development in this segment results in the emergence of a specific educational market. This market only partially follows a classic supply-demand model and potentially leads to “overtraining”.
The managing instruments that were found to be applied in the infrastructural change are ambivalent in terms of limited resources, sectoral fragmentation and the lack of institutions that are able to turn peripheric regions into areas of action in vocational training. The demographic discourse has not (yet) created new management instruments that are able to “overcome” the sectoral and institutional fragmentation of the vocational training system. Therefore, the potential of this discourse is limited when it comes to developing new or alternative vocational training strategies for infrastructures in rural and peripheric areas. The demographic discourse has the potential to generate new options, going beyond classic adaptation processes, if and when it focusses more strongly on the needs of the actors and users in vocational education in rural areas as well as connects more closely with the specialized educational and other discourses.