In this section you can read about the various approaches for initiating formal educational programs for youth workers in higher education. Based on inputs from university staff, and using examples of already established educational programs in Estonia, Ireland, North Macedonia and Wales, we have briefly described the main characteristics of the different ways in which programs can be created. Please note that the formal steps of the process described here come from the Macedonian educational system. Hence, you may notice differences in the way universities function in your context. Nevertheless, the characteristics of the initiation phase of the programs are equally valid in different contexts, which can be seen from the similarities discovered between all four countries covered by this project.

The Compendium of educational opportunities for youth workers in Estonia, Ireland, North Macedonia and Wales, which was published as part of this project, showed that different stakeholders (can) play a role in developing youth work education and training. Those different influences were categorized in three broad groups: 

  • National and local government;
  • The youth work sector (e.g., youth workers, representative bodies); and
  • Education and training providers
Figure 4. Key influences upon the development of youth work training,
Compendium of education opportunities for youth workers in Estonia, Ireland, North Macedonia and Wales 

The analysis of the historical developments of youth work training and education in Estonia, Ireland, North Macedonia and Wales showed that the level of influence of different stakeholders varied across different cases, as well as chronologically within the same context. This means that the involvement and contribution of different stakeholders in the process of establishing formal educational programs changed over time in each country. In the successful examples, stakeholders from different sectors were involved at one point or another, thus creating favourable conditions for establishing educational programs in higher education.

Most of the studied programs were initiated directly by the educational and training providers, who had independently recognised unmet needs in the educational sector and/or the labour market. However, our study also shows that many activities of various actors preceded the actual initiation of educational programs. The need for trained youth workers came as a result of complex processes happening over a long period of time, related to recognition, standardisation and professionalisation of youth work. In those processes, the role of national governments was often crucial, so the development of youth work education and training at the end often depended on governmental political will and interests. 

More details about the specific cases in Estonia, Ireland and Wales can be found in the section Case Studies on this web page. Based on the concrete examples, we have developed Guidelines for establishing formal educational programs for youth workers, which are available in the Conclusions part. 

Where to start

Developing a formal educational program is a complex process that can be realized through the following stages: initiation, definition, elaboration, accreditation, implementation, and evaluation. Each stage is specific, complex, interrelated, and time consuming. Within this study, we have focused solely on the initiation phase, as the part of the process that can be influenced by different factors and stakeholders. It is also within that phase that stakeholders from the youth work sector can be involved. 

Initiation of an educational program is the first step in the process. There are a number of patterns and sources that can initiate the establishment of a new educational program. Prior to elaboration of different patterns of introducing and establishing new educational programs, it is important to note that the procedure often depends on the source of initiation. 

The sources of initiating of a formal educational program can be divided in external and internal. The external source refers to a unit or a body outside of the university structure that establishes contact with the academic institution with the aim to discuss the societal need and to instigate establishing an educational program. The external unit or body can be a governmental, non-governmental, or even a private entity that has recognized the need for establishing a new program. Additionally, partner universities or universities are also considered as an external source that might be involved in the process of initiating and developing formal educational programs. All university unites such as departments/institutes, educational scientific boards of the faculties, or the Senate are considered as internal sources of educational program initiation. 

Different scenarios can be developed depending on the source of initiation:

  • Internal initiation of an educational program
  • Initiation of educational program by a governmental entity
  • Initiating an educational program by civil society sector
  • Initiation of educational program by implementation of International Peer Project (Peer Learning Project-Based Approach)
  • Initiation of educational program through bilateral or multilateral cooperation (paternalistic approach)

The following sections explore the characteristics of each approach, using practical examples and wherever possible, making links to already established youth work programs. All references to concrete examples of educational programs come from the Compendium of educational opportunities for youth workers in Estonia, Ireland, North Macedonia and Wales, or from the case studies of establishing educational programs, which were published as part of this project.

Internal initiation of an educational program

A proven best practice approach is to develop an educational program as an internal initiative. This approach is best achieved through a written plan shared with faculty management, faculty administration and academic staff. This is a critical tool for effective program management. The plan should list steps, personnel, and a timeline for program implementation. Systematic program planning is critical to developing any program. Introducing an educational program might encompass the following key steps: Planning, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. These steps follow a natural progression, but are seldom strictly linear. Curriculum and instruction best practices are based on well-developed performance-based learning objectives and authentic assessment. Keep instruction relevant to student experience and workforce options. Contextual teaching and learning methods create a simulated work environment in which to develop essential skills. 

Planning is the first of five phases in developing an educational course or an academic program. Planning includes a set of data gathering and assessment activities aimed at helping to decide whether or not to proceed to the design, development, implementation, and evaluation phases. The output of the planning phase should be a written concept proposal that makes an academic case for proceeding to the subsequent phases. This planning document can then be submitted to the appropriate approval structures (e.g., department, educational scientific board, dean, academic committee, senate, etc.). A planning document needs to cover several areas, including but not limited to, a mission statement, a needs analysis, required resources, general target competencies and/or outcomes, and an evaluation plan. Before proceeding to the design phase, a few words should be said about the distinction between competencies and outcomes and the evaluation plan.

The design phase involves creating a general structure for later development. Completing these steps will help guide the next phase (Development). Several actions should be taken, such as establish time frames for the future phases, specify desired competencies or learning outcomes, identify learning and performance activities that demonstrate successful achievement of the competencies/outcomes, set prerequisites (e.g., students taking Group social work must have completed Theory in Social Work, students enrolled in a college program must have a high school diploma), and determine the major administrative concerns.

The development phase is where the learning and training activities are generated and matched to the learning outcomes/competencies. This can be achieved by finding relevant learning and performance activities from external sources or developing these activities in the academic institution. Procuring the relevant activities from an external source is far less time consuming than developing them within the implementing educational institution. It is important to evaluate if the learning content offered by outside sources are suitable and applicable in the social context of the country or for the curriculum. Developing the learning and performance activities in the implementing educational institution allows for customized experiences that can target specific knowledge, skills, and abilities. Home-grown educational experiences have the advantage of being relevant to the outcomes and competencies identified for the curriculum. 

The learning outcomes/competencies that the students are acquiring should be assessed. A number of tests and measures that can be used to assess whether students are mastering the content and meeting the outcomes and/or competencies such as course grades, colloquia and final exams. After a course or program has been developed and approved by the accreditation board, the program is ready to be implemented.  After the course or program has been implemented, the program and professors must be evaluated for effectiveness every semester. This evaluation is driven by some formal model of evaluation by the students, but also in a form of self-evaluation each 4 years by the professors.

The analysis of existing youth work educational programs in Estonia, Ireland and Wales showed that this was the most common approach. Except for the first higher education youth work program in Estonia, which was initiated by the Ministry of Education, all studied programs were initiated and developed by universities. In many cases, universities did not go through the whole process on their own, but rather in coalitions with various other stakeholders. However, the initiative came from them in the first place, on the basis of identified needs for graduated youth workers. What preceded those moments of initiation, on the other hand, was a result of a complex interplay of various factors and stakeholders, which eventually resulted in favourable conditions for establishing formal educational programs or youth workers. 

Initiation of educational program by a governmental entity

A governmental agency, usually a line ministry, which has identified a lack of a certain professional profile in the society, can act as an initiator for establishing an educational program. Such an initiative may be the result of an ideological commitment or a government strategic goal. This can be especially pronounced when there is a discrepancy between educational practice and the ideology that, for example, conservative or liberal government advocates or wants to impose. The introduction of a new curriculum, especially in the social sciences, is aimed at supporting long-term national policy promoted by the national government.

Sometimes, this can mean putting one curriculum at a standstill at the expense of opening another. Although, theoretically, the role of the university is to build an autonomous, modern and critical scientific thought, as a public institution it still depends on government’s policy regarding the enrolment quotas. Namely, the government makes decisions about the quotas for enrolment of students in public higher education institutions. In fact, the mechanism of determining enrolment quotas is a good indicator of government policies in the field of education. For example, a conservative government in the same period may facilitate opening of a new educational program in the field of family studies, while at the same time it may not allocate quotas for enrolment of students in gender studies. Judging by the context, the opening of family studies and the suspension of gender studies is an indicator that the government is indirectly imposing its conservative policy.

Governmental involvement is visible in the historical development of youth work education and training in all countries that already have formal education for youth workers, covered by this project. That does not mean that educational programs were directly initiated by the government, but often that influence was exerted in other ways. Thus, the governmental role should be understood in a wider sense. 

Universities in Wales are independent and the government does not directly control their courses. However, historical analysis of events and developments shows that the establishing of youth work programs in higher education has been conditioned by governmental actions related to recognition, regulation and funding of youth work. For example, the initial development of training for paid and voluntary youth workers in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by the Albemarle report, published by the Ministry of Education in 1960. Further reports and policy documents adopted by the government enabled youth work to achieve the standing of a graduate profession, which in turn laid the grounds for establishing youth work courses in formal education. 

The development of youth work education in Ireland has also been strongly influenced by governmental actions and policy. The Youth Work Act 2001 defined youth work; the National Youth Work Development Plan (2003-2007) included investment and actions “for enhancing professionalism and ensuring quality standards in youth work”; then other documents followed that further defined the status of youth work. Essentially, as youth policy developed, so did the need for professionalization of youth work, and with that, the need for youth work studies. 

Governmental involvement in initiating youth work programs is more visible in Estonia. There, following independence in 1991, the Ministry of Education and Culture’s youth department negotiated with several universities with a view to developing a youth work qualification. Despite declines from several universities, the Tallinn Pedagogical School agreed and in 1992 a two-year vocational level course in youth work was opened. The further evolution and expansion of youth work education and training in the 1990s and 2002s was also fuelled by policy developments. 

Initiating an educational program by civil society sector

The civil society sector can also act as the initiator of a new educational program. It is the progressiveness of the civil society sector, its sensitivity to the rapidly changing social conditions, as well as the lower degree of bureaucratization, that is a precondition for the inclusion of the civil society sector in the group of initiators of new educational programs. Additionally, the civil society sector is recognized as a resource within which formal and informal continuing education is provided in many social domains. The civil society sector is often seen as a partner in science and higher education. Commonly in practice, in the absence of funding and research initiatives, it is the civil sector that encourages empirical and scientific research conducted in partnership with higher education institutions or their representatives. Namely, the academic staff often engages experts or consultants from civil society organizations. 

The cooperation established through mutual cooperation leads to relations in which the civil society, based on the expertise and insight into the social need for profiles that are vital in modern social life, indirectly encourage the opening of new curricula or initiate changes in existing curricula contents. What is important to note is that in the social sphere, the civil society sector is increasingly becoming a market where the profiles formed at the social and humanities faculties are placed. The success of the civil society sector in promoting the idea about ​​a new curriculum and creating a new profile for the labour market depends on its ability to lobby and advocate about the social significance of the profile they represent, as well as the social momentum in which they place the idea. Also, the target group for whom the given new profile is intended, as well as the place and significance of the target group in a given society are crucial for successful finalization of the idea.

Our analysis of educational programs in the four countries covered by this project did not find any example of a youth work program initiated by civil society sector. The closest to this category was the study programme in Leadership and Community Youth Work, which was offered by the South East European University in North Macedonia. As the only formal education program in youth work ever offered in the country, this course was developed in close cooperation between the University and a non-governmental organisation that was previously running a long-term training for youth workers in leadership and community youth work. There was only one generation of students enrolled before the program was closed due to lack of interest. In this case, the interest from formal education and civil society sector was not matched with supportive government and youth work policy, which could play a role in why the program was unsuccessful.

However, this does not mean that civil society did not have any role in establishing youth work education in the other countries. For example, the evolution of youth work education and training in Wales shows that individuals and networks from the youth work sector had a strong influence on how youth work training and education developed. In other examples, training programs provided by organisations from the youth work sector preceded formalised youth work training and education, well before any national strategies or policies were in place. And in some cases, actors from civil society were involved in the process of establishing educational programs in higher education, even though they were not the sole initiators. Such is the example of establishing the Youth Work Management master’s programme in Estonia

Initiation of educational program by implementation of International Peer Project (Peer Learning Project-Based Approach)

A common practice to establish a new educational program is by transfer of a good practice from a more advanced but compatible system or a country. Usually, this approach is applied in situations when a need to establish a new study program emerges due to social transitions. Usually, transitional processes create a vacuum in knowledge and practice that requires adequate academic response. Such was the case with developing social work in post-communist countries or in newly emerged countries after the break down of the Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union or in most of the countries that were previously part of the Eastern Block in the early nineties.    

This scenario assumes creating a joint project by two or more universities with the aim to establish a new educational program at one of the universities. The targeted university is assumed to have the academic potentials that needs further enhancement through exchange of knowledge or experience. The rationale is to establish a cooperation or a network and to benefit from the peer learning process. This is an excellent model for the initiation and continuation of successful alliances. A partnership can be defined as a system by which there is a shared responsibility between two or more educational institutions. Selecting the right partner when developing an education program is a challenging process. For the education partnership to be sustainable, several factors must be met. Creating a long-term vision is paramount for an education partnership to be sustainable. To that end, investing in an education partnership means on the one hand, that people are going to learn something worthwhile and, on the other hand, that there will be an impact on the educational program.

However, partnership might refer to shared responsibility between education, industry, labour, government, and community to develop the human resources required for high-performance workplace. Mainly, this partnership can be within formal university networks or Programs. The corporation might be established within a partnership project for curriculum development or for establishment of a new educational program. The network purpose is to promote and enrich exchange of teaching practices and to broaden studying opportunities by providing collaborative regional dimension and flexible learning for students. Partnership activities must yield benefits to all participating members. Partnership networks share best practice models for new and emerging institutions. 

This project-based approach assumes developing a curriculum as the overall aim of the project. This particular form of initiation of a project requires creating a working group, periodical interuniversity meetings, training, mentorship, academic staff exchange, and study visits. Such cooperation networks were established within TEMPUS, CEPUS, and ERASMUS program projects.

Our study did not find any formal education programs for youth workers that were developed in partnership between universities from different countries. However, we identified many examples of coalition and partnership building on a national level, involving stakeholders from different sectors. 

A good example of establishing educational program through a cross-sectorial partnership was the Youth Work Management master’s programme in Estonia. For opening the studies, discussions were held with youth department of Ministry of Education and Research, Estonian Youth Work Centre, Youth Agency of Archimedes Foundation, Estonian Youth Workers Association, Estonian Scout Association, Estonian Youth Council, Sport and Youth Department of Tallinn, The Youth Work Service of Tartu, The Association of Estonian Cities and The Association of Estonian Rural Municipalities.

In Ireland, The Department of Social Studies at Maynooth University has long been acknowledged for its willingness to develop strategic partnerships with external organizations to enhance Youth Worker Competence in the field of Youth and Community work. In 2015 Maynooth University and Leargas, the Irish National Agency for the Erasmus+ programme, worked together to develop a Level 8 certificate titled “European Youth Mobility Project Management – a Unique & innovative Level 8 Certificate to support the continued professional development of youth workers in a European Context. This course was the first of its kind in the University. The innovative programme was born out of the need to upskill Youth Work Practitioners in the area of “European Youth Mobility Project Management”.

In Wales, the Wales Youth Agency built coalitions with key institutions such as the universities in Wrexham, Carmarthen and Cardiff, which resulted in drawing state funds and consequently marginalising other educational institutions. Various other consortia were established over the years to deliver youth worker training throughout Wales. 

Initiation of educational program through bilateral or multilateral cooperation (paternalistic approach)

A similar practice of initiating an educational program is identified in bilateral or multilateral cooperation. Usually, a country that is more advanced or historically is considered as more progressive in a certain academic field of education acts as a patron in initiating the introduction of a new educational field. For this purpose, a Developmental Agency of a country designates resources in the area of education to sponsor implementation of such projects in the beneficiary country. This approach usually is based on a partnership project between two universities, but in the practice, there were projects when in one phase of the project additional number of universities, mainly from neighbouring countries and a shared cultural and educational heritage are included. Formation of active advisory committees align curriculum and job placement with existing local and regional business opportunities. Usually, these are long-term projects. Sustainability of such projects can be secured with practice placement of students at a patron university followed after launching the educational program. Such is the case of the involvement of DAAD in development of Social Work Education in the Republic of Kosovo or involvement of SIDA in development of Social Work Education in Republic Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

This process includes, above all, close cooperation between governmental organizations regarding the identification of a higher education institution that has the capacity and on which, according to the domain of scientific interest i.e., the kinship of the scientific field, the program should be implemented. After the identification of the related higher education institution, faculty, an initial contact is established, and the vision is presented as well as justification of the need to introduce a new curriculum. At this stage of the process, it is very important to encourage the interest and enthusiasm among the representatives of the higher education institution/faculty for social justification of the new educational profile on the labour market, when sharing the vision for the educational program. After the mutual consent for realization of the activities, it is necessary to make a decision on which educational level the program will be implemented, whether it will be interdisciplinary, whether the program will be realized within an already established study program or it is necessary to open a new study program. Sometimes there may be a problem in determining the educational field of the educational program. This is the case especially in a situation when the higher education institution has a complex structure, i.e., it is divided into a number of departments, some of which are more closely related to the scientific field to which the new discipline belongs. The problem can cause rivalry over securing consent to open a new study program within the relevant higher education institution, over which department to implement the new program, as well as in the case of an interdisciplinary approach over who to be involved in its implementation. 

In addition to these challenges, there may be a problem related to the accreditation of the proposed program, due to the lack of adequate teaching staff for its implementation. Such was the case for example with the opening of a study program for social work at two state universities in the Republic of Serbia. Due to the lack of supply of social workers on the labour market in the south and in the north of the country, a project to increase the offer of education of social workers in the Republic of Serbia was launched. Namely, until 2015, this type of education was offered only to one public and one private higher education institution, both of which were located in the capital, Belgrade. The distance as well as the high cost of living in the capital led to a situation of reduced interest of students from the interior of the country for this profile. That raised the alarm for establishing new educational programs at the Universities of Nis and Novi Sad. However, one of the problems that arose was the engagement of elected accredited professors who would be involved in the implementation of the curriculum. The local universities were unable to provide a sufficient number of professors needed to conduct the accreditation process and meet the criteria of the national accreditation agency, and were put in a situation to seek help and support from the partner University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, in the Republic of North Macedonia. Professors from the Institute for Social Work and Social Policy, supported the accreditation, establishment and realization of the new curriculum. 

One of the ways of promoting cooperation between educational institutions and other organizations is the Erasmus+ programme, which can be used to engage universities in development and networking activities, such as: 

  • creating partnerships with organizations from other countries, in order to achieve innovative results or exchange best practices
  • facilitating international exchange opportunities for students, staff, trainees, apprentices, volunteers, youth workers and young people

The Erasmus+ program also offers exchange opportunities in vocational education and training. Additionally, the program supports further international cooperation for institutions with a good track record of holding these exchanges. For example, the Institute of social work and social policy at the Faculty of Philosophy from Skopje, North Macedonia, has signed more than 20 Erasmus agreements (Germany, Estonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Spain, Italy) and some of its students and professors are benefiting from the exchange program.