Vocational education: “All the Nordic countries share common problems”

By on 22.04.2016 in Funding

“The questions we are raising are of big importance on both a societal level and on an individual level,” says Mattias Nylund, University of Gothenburg.

Mattias and his colleague Per-Åke Rosvall at Umeå University are exited. They have received funding for laying the foundations for a new cross-collaboration network together with Nordic researchers with the aim to identify needs and gaps within Vocational education research.

Per-Åke Roswall

Per-Åke Rosvall

“All the Nordic countries share some common problems,” says Per-Åke. “They are quite serious problems as well. On a policy level, at least in the Swedish context, these problems are not fully recognized and are framed in a specific way. Much of the discussion in policy circles around efficiency and employability, not social justice.”


Focus in the new collaboration group will lie on examining the key differences between Nordic countries. Sweden and Finland has a tradition of a mainly school-based education, while countries like Denmark, Iceland and Norway have a strong tradition of apprenticeship training.

Despite these differences in the dominant form of providing vocational education, it seems that the upper secondary vocational education in Nordic countries faces the same set of problems.

Mattias Nylund

Mattias Nylund

“The same problems are e.g. low throughput, high youth unemployment and social exclusion”, says Mattias. The attempts to tackle these problems vary among the Nordic countries.

“These commonalities and shared problems make Nordic countries an interesting context for comparative work; they present a case which enables a deeper understanding of the nature of these problems and how they can be tackled,” Per-Åke adds.

The problem of social exclusion

Vocational education in all Nordic countries shares some problematic patterns in relation to goals such as equality and gender equality. Firstly, there is a connection between social class background and VET, i.e. class segregation. Secondly, the vocational routes are also segregated in terms of gender.

The Nordic countries have all tried to tackle these problems in different ways. However, no simple solution seems to be at hand. While school-based vocational education with strong elements of workplace learning might have a positive effect on youth unemployment, it carries with it other problems in regard to social exclusion. Apprenticeship education is the form of education where gender segregation is most prominent, and there is evidence suggesting that youth with minority ethnic backgrounds are being discriminated. Furthermore, these problems seem to become harder to solve over time because they have strong ties to segregation by gender and ethnic background in the labour market.

“In short, the organization of upper-secondary vocational education seems to have an impact on equality and inclusion”, says Per-Åke. “Various models of organising upper secondary education carry with them different problems and challenges.”

Another important aim of the outlined collaboration project is to provide possibilities to develop bridges between different theoretical ‘languages’ in order to better understand and contextualize the current development of school-to-work transitions in the Nordic countries, and stimulate innovative research approaches.

At the outset of creating something new

Several members of the Nordic Centre of Excellence JustEd has worked with themes and issues closely related to those of the project ‘The future of vocational education – learning from the Nordic countries’ (NordVet) and vice versa. However, to some extent different perspectives has been applied and analysed. Thus, the proposed ‘partnership’ of these two groups aims at generating new knowledge as stated below:

“There are researchers in this new network who aren’t especially familiar with each other’s work. With this initiative, I hope we can share knowledge and experience and as a consequence improve research designs and strategies,” says Per-Åke.

Mattias agrees, and adds: “We want to bring together two different research groups with different strengths. Hopefully, this will bring forward synergies.”

The new collaboration is kick starting in the end of April with the first meeting in Umeå, Sweden. Researchers from JustEd and the project NordVet, part of the programme Education for Tomorrow, are then gathering for the first time.

Participants in the new network are, except for Mattias and Per-Åke, Lisbeth Lundahl at Umeå University, Kristiina Brunila, Sirpa Lappalainen and Anna-Maija Niemi at Helsinki University, Tero Järvinen at Turku University and Ingolfúr Ásgeir Jóhannesson and Elsa Eiríksdóttir at University of Iceland.

Contributors from the NordVet project are Christian Helms Jørgensen at Roskilde University, Maarit Virolainen and Marja-Leena Stenström at University of Jyväskylä, Daniel Persson Thunqvist and Anders Hallqvist at Linköping University, and Tønder Hagen Anna at FAFO.

“We hope that we, during this first meeting, will identify research gaps and create new research questions, which will improve the research in this field,” says Per-Åke Rosvall. In the new network the members will combine and compare findings from previous projects. “We will investigate these issues more thoroughly and define topics that demand further valorisation.”

The group aims at arranging a symposium at NERA 2017. “Additionally, we’re aiming at making a special issue on this, because there has been quite little written on these issues”, Per-Åke says.


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About the Author

About the Author: Journalist currently working as Communications Specialist at the Nordic Centre of Excellence "Justice through Education in the Nordic countries" and in NordForsk's programme "Education for Tomorrow". .


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