Centres of Vocational Excellence (ERASMUS-EDU-2024-PEX-COVE)

  • Action type: ERASMUS-LS ERASMUS Lump Sum Grants
  • Opening date: 5 December 2023
  • Closing time: 7 May 2024 17:00 (Europe/Brussels)
  • Total budget: € 56 000 000
  • Project duration: 48 months
  • Official website


Implementing vocational excellence approaches features prominently in the overall EU policy agenda for skills and for Vocational Education and Training (VET). The European Skills Agenda, the European Education Area, the 2020 Council Recommendation on VET [https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32020H1202%2801%29 ], as well as the Osnabrück Declaration [https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/files/osnabrueck_declaration_eu2020.pdf ], all include very clear references to Vocational Excellence as a driving force for reforms in the VET sector.

The initiative on Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVE) aims to respond to this policy priority supporting reforms in the VET sector, ensuring high quality skills and competences that lead to quality employment and career-long opportunities, meeting the needs of an innovative, inclusive and sustainable economy[1]. The CoVE initiative also supports the implementation of the European Green Deal, the new Digital Strategy, the Communication on attracting Skills and Talent, and the new Industrial and SME Strategies, as skills are key to their success.

CoVEs operate in a given local context, creating skills ecosystems for innovation, regional development, and social inclusion, while working with CoVEs in other countries through international collaborative networks. They establish a bottom-up approach to vocational excellence involving a wide range of local stakeholders enabling VET institutions to rapidly adapt skills provision to evolving economic and social needs.

They provide opportunities for initial training of young people as well as the continuing up-skilling and re-skilling of adults, through flexible and timely offer of training that meets the needs of a dynamic labour market, in the context of the green and digital transitions. They act as catalysts for local business development and innovation, by working closely with companies (in particular SMEs) on applied research projects, creating knowledge and innovation hubs, as well as supporting entrepreneurial initiatives of their learners.

The networks aim for “upward convergence” of VET excellence. They will be open for the involvement of countries with well-developed vocational excellence systems, as well as those in the process of developing similar approaches, aimed at exploring the full potential of VET institutions to play a proactive role in support of growth and innovation.

This initiative introduces a “European dimension” to Vocational Excellence by supporting the implementation of EU VET policy and actions agreed with member states, social partners and VET providers.

The concept of Vocational Excellence proposed here is characterised by a holistic learner centred approach in which VET:

  • Is an integrated part of skills ecosystems [Skill ecosystems are defined as regional or sectoral social formations in which human capability is developed and deployed for productive purposes (Finegold 1999). Their basic elements are business settings and associated business models, institutional/policy frameworks, modes of engaging labour, the structure of jobs, as well as the level of skills and systems for their formation (Buchanan et al. 2001). See A guide to the skill ecosystem approach to workforce development ], contributing to regional development [ Regional Development Policy – Regional development is a broad term but can be seen as a general effort to reduce regional disparities by supporting (employment and wealth-generating) economic activities in regions], innovation [An innovation is the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations], smart specialisation [Smart Specialisation is a place-based approach characterised by the identification of strategic areas for intervention based both on the analysis of the strengths and potential of the economy and on an Entrepreneurial Discovery Process with wide stakeholder involvement. It is outward-looking and embraces a broad view of innovation includingand clusters strategies [Industrial clusters are groups of specialised enterprises, often SMEs, and other related supporting actors in a location that cooperate closely. There are around 3000 specialised clusters in Europe. The renewed EU industrial policy recognises clusters as a powerful tool to support industrial innovation. See European Cluster Collaboration Platform (ECCP).], as well as to specific value chains and industrial ecosystems;
  • Is part of knowledge triangles [See Education in the knowledge triangle ], working closely with other education and training sectors, the scientific community, and business;
  • Enables learners to acquire both vocational (job specific) as well as key competences [As defined in the Council Recommendation of 22 May 2018 on key competences for lifelong learning] through high-quality provision that is underpinned by quality assurance;
  • Builds innovative forms of partnerships [See ETF work on Public-Private Partnerships for inclusive skills development] with the world of work, and is supported by the continuous professional development of teaching and training staff, innovative pedagogies, learner and staff mobility and VET internationalisation strategies.


This action supports the gradual establishment and development of international collaborative networks of Centres of Vocational Excellence.

Centres of Vocational Excellence will operate at two levels:

  1. At national level involving a wide range of local stakeholders creating skills ecosystems for local innovation, regional development, and social inclusion, while working with CoVEs in other countries through international collaborative networks.
  2. At international level bringing together CoVEs that share a common interest in:

The networks will bring together existing CoVEs, or develop the Vocational Excellence model by linking partners from various countries, that intend to develop Vocational Excellence in their local context through international cooperation. They could contribute e.g. to the delivery phase of the New European Bauhaus initiative by collaborating with the communities involved in the local transformations fostered by the initiative.

CoVEs can be existing vocational schools/providers that strive to achieve excellence by engaging in the set of activities proposed by this European initiative. They can also be newly set-up centres established with the purpose of providing excellent training offers and services that are responsive to labour market needs.

CoVEs achieve their objectives by bringing together and working closely with a set of local/regional partners such initial and continuing VET providers, higher education institutions including universities of applied sciences and polytechnics, research institutions, science parks, innovation agencies, companies, other employers, chambers and their associations, social partners, social enterprises, sectoral skills councils, professional/sector associations, national and regional authorities and development agencies, employment services, qualifications authorities, social inclusion and reintegration organisations, etc.

This call will thus support projects bringing together local or regional partners from various countries developing a set of activities under three clusters; 1) Teaching and learning, 2) Cooperation and partnerships, and 3) Governance and Funding.

CoVEs are required to apply EU wide instruments and tools [Such as the EQF, EQAVET, Council Recommendation on a European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships, Council Recommendation on key competences, etc.] whenever relevant.

They must include the design of a long-term action plan for the progressive roll-out of project deliverables after the project has finished. This plan shall be based on sustained partnerships between education and training providers and key labour market actors at the appropriate level. It should include the identification of appropriate governance structures, as well as plans for scalability and financial sustainability.

It should also ensure the appropriate visibility and wide dissemination of the work of the COVE networks, including at EU and national political level and include details on how the roll-out will be implemented at European, national and/or regional levels with relevant partners. The action plan shall also indicate how other EU funding opportunities, and national and regional funding, as well as private funding can support the roll-out of the project.

Eligible participating organisations (Who can apply?)

In order to be eligible, the applicants (beneficiaries and affiliated entities, if applicable) must:

  • be legal entities (public or private bodies);
  • be established in one of the eligible countries, i.e EU Member State or third country associated to the Programme);
  • be active in the field of vocational education and training or in the world of work;
  • Organisations active in the field of vocational education and training or in the world of work from third countries not associated to the Programme may also participate – as beneficiary, affiliated entity or associated partner – but not as coordinator.

Exception: organisations from Belarus (Region 2) and the Russian Federation (Region 4) are not eligible to participate in this action.

Participating organisations can be, for example (non-exhaustive list):

  • VET providers
  • VET provider representative organisations
  • Companies, industry, other employers or sector representative organisations
  • National/regional qualification authorities
  • Research institutes
  • Innovation agencies
  • Regional development authorities
  • International organisations active in the VET field

Consortium composition (Number and profile of participating organisations)

The partnership must include at least 8 applicants (beneficiaries) from a minimum of 4 EU Member States or third countries associated to the Programme.  

Each EU Member State or third country associated to the Programme must include:

  1. at least 1 enterprise, industry, other employers or sector representative organisation, and
  2. at least 1 vocational education and training provider (at secondary and/or tertiary level)

Affiliated entities and associated partners do not count in this minimum configuration of the consortium. They can not be the coordinating organisation.  

The coordinating organisation must be from an EU Member State or a third country associated to the Programme.  

Organisations from third countries not associated to the Programme can also participate as beneficiaries or affiliated entities, to the extent it is demonstrated that their participation brings an essential added value to the project. They can also participate as associated partners.

Setting up a project

CoVEs are characterised by adopting a systemic approach through which VET institutions actively contribute to co-create “skills ecosystems”, together with a wide range of other local/regional partners. CoVE´s are expected to go far beyond the simple provision of a quality vocational qualification.

Below, we present a list of typical activities provided by CoVEs. Projects will reach their objectives by building on a combination of these activities (bullet points are indicative examples of possible actions under each activity) 15 .

Description of the Clusters

Cluster 1 – Teaching and learning

Activity 1 – Providing people with labour market relevant skills
  • by anticipating future skill needs using effective means to rapidly identify changing labour market needs 16 , and matching skill provision with job opportunities also taking into account work undertaken by Sectoral Blueprint, where relevant and available;
  • by focusing on both technical skills and key competencies 17
  • by including the skills necessary for the green and digital transitions 18 ,
Activity 2 – Pursuing a lifelong learning and inclusive approach in VET
  • by ensuring learning opportunities to people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds 19
  • by combining offers of initial VET qualifications and of continuing training for upskilling and reskilling, that are informed by skills intelligence 20 .
  • providing higher-level VET programmes, developing flexible pathways, and cooperation mechanisms between VET and higher education institutions 21
Activity 3 – Developing VET curricula and qualifications, allowing flexibility and individualisation of delivery
  • by developing individual learning plans 22  or pathways for each learner 23 , including for adults
  • Integrating international learner mobility 24 in the curricula, ensuring the validation and recognition of the learning outcomes acquired abroad
  • Designing qualifications that integrate both school-based as well as work-based learning 25 components
  • Developing European Vocational Core profiles 26 , that contributes to the mobility of learners and workers, while ensuring its recognition, as well as the transparency, understanding and portability of learning outcomes 27
  • Developing and/or using micro-credentials to recognise the outcome of short learning opportunities adapted to a fast-changing society and labour market
  • Making use of the European Digital Credentials for Learning, allowing to easily authenticate, validate and recognise credentials of any size, shape or form
Activity 4 – Developing innovative learner-centred teaching and learning materials and methodologies
  • including interdisciplinary, project-based, competence-based learning, “Learning factories”, makerspaces 28 and positive education 29
  • making use of European competence frameworks 30 and derivative tools such as DigComp 31 , EntreComp 32 , FreenComp, LifeComp 33 , GreenComp 34 , SELFIE WBL 35 , Test your digital skills 36 , and the European Digital Skill Certificate 37
  • exploiting innovative teaching equipment and digital technologies such as MOOC’s, simulators, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, for both school-based as well as work-based learning
  • fostering learner excellence 38   through actions that incentive VET learners to explore their innovation and creative potential 39 , leading to a virtuous cycle of benefits for the learners, teachers/trainers and the VET institution that can integrate best practices into regular programmes 40 .
Activity 5 – Investing in the initial and continuing professional development of teachers and trainers 41
  • for pedagogical, technical, green, and digital skills including those needed for online and distance learning
  • embedding teachers’ and trainers’ mobility in learning, development and internationalisation strategies 42
  • supporting the implementation of a quality culture based on defined management systems 43
Activity 6 – Establishing strong quality assurance mechanisms
  • based on European tools and instruments such as EQAVET
  • working towards the certification of education and training providers based on standards developed by relevant national and/or international standards organisations – e.g. ISO 21001 or EFQM (see also EVTA label for VET Excellence)
Activity 7 – Establishing effective feedback loops and graduate tracking systems
  • setting-up procedures, mechanisms and instruments for effective feedback and review as part of a strategic learning process in the VET organisation, to support the development of high quality provision and improve opportunities for learners
  • enabling the timely adaptation of learning provision based on effective graduate tracking systems 44 .
Activity 8 – Providing guidance services
  • ensuring quality guidance 45 for both young people and adults to support their career and education and training choices, as well as and their participation in lifelong learning
  • providing tailor made support to people with vulnerabilities
  • enabling adults to make use of their entitlements to training
Activity 9 – Providing validation of prior learning
  • Providing validation of skills, no matter how they were acquired, including outside formal education and training: at work, at home or in voluntary activities 46 , as a basis for personalised training provision

Cluster 2 – Cooperation and partnerships

Activity 10 – Establishing business-education partnerships
  • Cultivating mutually beneficial relationships with the business sector by forming long-term business-education partnerships, including for innovation and skills anticipation
  • Working together to continuously review and update curricula to ensure its relevance to learner and labour market needs, in particular for work based learning and apprentices
  • Supporting companies, other employers and in particular SMEs with tailor made training for up-skilling and re skilling
  • Co-operation with Public Employment Services and civil society to up-skill and re-skill unemployed and inactive
  • Supporting sector-based and regional co-operation, including joining the Pact for Skills, and creating synergies with Sectoral Blueprint, as relevant and available
  • Providing SMEs with technical support, skill needs assessment, tools and methodologies
  • Organising work-based learning, apprenticeships, and internships opportunities for learners, sharing of equipment, as well as exchanges of teachers and trainers between companies and VET centres 47
Activity 11 – Applied research and Innovation
  • Working together with companies, in particular SMEs on applied research 48 projects involving VET learners and staff
  • Making use or co-creating innovation hubs and technology diffusion centres 49 to support SME innovation process with the involvement of VET learners and staff
  • Contributing to creation and dissemination of new knowledge 50
Activity 12 – VET internationalisation and mobility abroad
  • Developing strategic planning for international activities, closely linked to the development of the VET institution, and the quality of teaching and learning practices 51
  • Creating support structures and measures to foster and ensure the quality of VET mobility experiences (including virtual mobility) among the partners in the CoVE network in compliance with the Erasmus Quality Standards 52
  • Launching initiatives to mobilise learners, teachers and trainers (including in-company trainers), as well as experts, to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Erasmus+ programme (KA1) to engage in mobility abroad
Activity 13 – Fostering entrepreneurial skills and initiatives
  • Developing an entrepreneurial culture within VET organisations 53 including leaders, staff, teachers and trainers as well as learners 54
  • Working with local partners to develop learners’ entrepreneurial skills and attitudes that respond to real world challenges
  • Providing or linking with local business incubators for VET learners to develop their entrepreneurship 55 initiatives
Activity 14 – Raising VET attractiveness
  • By launching and actively participating in communication campaigns and activities, aimed at raising the attractiveness of VET
  • Informing of job opportunities through VET and attracting young people and adults (including learners in primary and secondary schools) to VET learning pathways
  • Setting-up International VET campus or summer camps 56 aimed at learners, teachers and trainers, leaders in VET institutions, Trade unions, as well as for people considering future vocational study options. These could focus on specific occupational fields, products or services, as well as on complex challenges of societal and economic importance
Activity 15 – Skills competitions
  • Fostering the participation of learners in sectorial, national and international skills competitions, aimed at raising the attractiveness and excellence in VET (e.g. World Skills and/or EuroSkills competitions). Please note that prizes are not an eligible cost in the budget.

Cluster 3 – Governance and funding

Activity 16 – Autonomy and effective VET governance
  • Developing the capacity of VET providers to take decisions, independently and with accountability, on educational, organisational, financial, staff-related and other matters, in pursuit of activity carried out within the scope defined by national rules and regulations 57
  • Involving relevant stakeholders, particularly companies, chambers, professional and sector associations, trade unions, national and regional authorities and social partners, including representatives of learners, in the governance of VET systems
Activity 17 – Strategic approach to skills development and governance
  • Actively engaging in the national and regional skills governance systems
  • Contributing with a skills perspective to employment and social policy making at local, regional, national and European level
Activity 18 – Co-creating skills ecosystems
  • Mobilising relevant economic and social partners as well as other educational and training institutions to engage or create local skills ecosystems aimed at supporting innovation, smart specialisation strategies, clusters, and sectors and value chains (industrial ecosystems)
  • Enabling local skills ecosystems contribute to attract foreign investment 58 , by ensuring timely provision of skills for companies investing locally
Activity 19 – Developing sustainable financial models
  • Combining public and private funding 59 , as well as income generating activities, and taking full advantage of performance-based funding schemes (if relevant)
Activity 20 – Making full use of national and EU financial instruments
  • These can include the support of education and training actions, mobility of learners and staff, applied research activities, infrastructure investments to modernise VET centres with advanced equipment, implementation of management systems to assure excellence and sustainability of VET organisations and the services they provide

The project must clearly identify and explain the choice of each of the selected activities in the application form, and describe how the work to be carried out through those activities will concretely contribute to the relevant work packages, and with the overall objectives of the project.

Expected impact

The gradual establishment and development of European networks of Centres of Vocational Excellence is expected to increase VET responsiveness to adapt skills provision to evolving economic and social needs, ensuring that VET is at the forefront of providing solutions to the challenges posed by rapidly changing skills needs.

By forming an essential part of the “knowledge triangle” – the close collaboration between businesses, education and research – and playing a fundamental role in providing skills to support innovation and smart specialisation, the Centres of Vocational Excellence are expected to ensure high quality skills and competences that lead to quality employment and career-long opportunities, which meet the needs of an innovative, inclusive and sustainable economy. 

By being firmly anchored within regional/local contexts while at the same time operating at transnational level, the Centres of Vocational Excellence will form strong and enduring partnerships between the VET community and the world of work at national level and across borders. It will also contribute to the internationalization of VET by bringing together partners from all over the world. They will aim for “upward convergence” of excellence in VET, which would be difficult to establish in the absence of EU incentives, technical support, and opportunities for mutual learning.  

Through the wide dissemination of project outcomes at transnational, national and/or regional levels and the development of a long-term action plan for the progressive roll out of project deliverables, taking national and regional development and smart specialisation strategies into account, individual projects are expected to engage relevant stakeholders within and outside the participating organisations and ensure a lasting impact after the project lifetime.

Eligible activities

The applicant must address 3 clusters of activities (providing details on the concrete actions and deliverables). For each cluster, a minimum number of activities must be selected from the list below:

  • at least 4 activities under Cluster 1 – Teaching and learning,
  • at least 3 activities under Cluster 2 – Cooperation and partnership, and
  • at least 2 activities under Cluster 3 – Governance and funding.

The Clusters are described below in the section “Setting up a project”.

Vocational education and training activities, at any EQF levels from 3 to 8, including the upper-secondary level, the post-secondary non-tertiary level as well as the tertiary level (e.g. Universities of applied sciences, Polytechnic institutes, etc.) are eligible. However, applications cannot include only activities that target learners at tertiary level; if they focus on VET at post secondary level (EQF levels 6 to 8), they must include at least one other VET qualification level between EQF levels 3 to 5, as well as a strong work-based learning component.


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