Like other modern industrialized societies, Germany has evolved into a knowledge-based economy in which the role of education and educational institutions has become a key factor in all phases of the life course. More than ever before, education has become a lifelong process in which individuals continue to learn in formal, nonformal, and informal environments throughout their lives. As a result, their educational careers and competencies and how these unfold in relation to the family, educational institutions, workplaces, and private life have become a topic of major national interest. Understanding what is happening over the life course requires a longitudinal approach. This is why the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS
) for the Federal Republic of Germany has been set up to collect longitudinal data on educational processes and competence development within a multicohort sequence design, and to make this data available to the scientific community. From 2008 to 2013, NEPS data was collected as part of the Framework Program for the Promotion of Empirical Educational Research funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). As of 2014, NEPS is carried out by the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi
) at the University of Bamberg in cooperation with a nationwide network.
The Priority Programme "Education as a Lifelong Process. Analyzing Data of the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS)" of the German Research Foundation (DFG) combines different research projects that are devoted to one or more of the following research topics: (1) studying competence development over the life course, (2) utilizing the NEPS database for other relevant substantive analyses, (3) dealing with methodological issues relevant to the NEPS. The programme started on January 1, 2012, and is coordinated by Prof. Dr. Dr. Hans-Peter Blossfeld (University of Bamberg) and Prof. Dr. Sabine Weinert (University of Bamberg). The main programme is approved for a duration of six years.
The Priority Programme of DFG aims to be a starting point to foster widespread public use of the data and the research opportunities of NEPS. During the first (2012-2014) and second (2015-2017) funding phases of the Priority Programme more than twenty projects from five different disciplines have successfully conducted their research and have published their results. In 2018, the third funding phase (2018-2020) of the Priority Programme was launched. Three research groups continued their research projects focusing on the same or new topics compared to the second funding period. In addition, thirteen new projects have been included into the programme. Overall, sixteen projects distributed throughout seven German universities, five research institutes, and one international university are embedded in the third phase of the Priority Programme.
A further important goal of the Priority Programme is to form an efficient interdisciplinary network of experts studying education as a lifelong process. The NEPS consortium can function as the core of such a network, and the LIfBi at the University of Bamberg will serve as an institutional platform coordinating such kinds of activities. In particular, a specific theoretical and methodological training program will be developed and organized for doctoral students and postdocs, enabling them to conduct cutting-edge research and publish in the best peer-reviewed journals in the field.
Finally, the Priority Programme aims at stimulating national and international cooperation with key scientists in the field. For example, an important focus within Germany should be the cooperation with other large-scale activities financed by the BMBF (such as PISA and BLK programs) and closely related DFG Priority Programmes (such as the Priority Programme “Kompetenzmodelle zur Erfassung individueller Lernergebnisse und zur Bilanzierung von Bildungsprozessen”). On an international level, cross-national comparisons of the NEPS data with comparable data structures on educational processes from other countries can help to forge closer ties to educational researchers from different countries.