Vocational education and training – ‘dead end’ or pathway to higher education?

By on 09.06.2016 in Public dissemination

Education in the Nordic countries share many basic values of equality and social inclusion, and have built strong free and public education systems. This is often seen as a common ‘Nordic model’ of education. However, this is not the case for vocational education and training (VET) at upper secondary level (grade 10–12, Norway: videregående skole, Sweden: gymnasieskolan, Denmark: ungdomsuddannelser, Finland: ammatillinen koulutus).

“In the Nordic countries we find school-based VET-systems (Sweden and Finland), apprenticeship systems (Denmark) and a mixed system (Norway),” says Christian Helms Jørgensen, Professor at Roskilde University. “Despite these differences, the Nordic VET-systems share a number of common challenges for the future.”

Christian Helms Jørgensen, Daniel Persson Thunqvist, Marja-Leena Stenström and Ole Johnny Olsen discussed what each of the four Nordic VET-systems can learn from other Nordic countries during the Nord-Vet Conference in Roskilde 7–8 June.

Christian Helms Jørgensen, Daniel Persson Thunqvist, Marja-Leena Stenström and Ole Johnny Olsen discussed what each of the four Nordic VET-systems can learn from other Nordic countries during the Nord-Vet Conference in Roskilde 7–8 June.

 

The education policy in the Nordic countries has given priority to achieve social equality and social inclusion in education. These goals have been pursued by providing access to higher education for all, also from upper secondary VET programmes and by offering VET for young people who do not aim for higher education.

“Our research has shown that it is difficult for the Nordic VET-systems to achieve these two goals at the same time: to provide eligibility for higher education in VET and at the same time to provide access to skilled employment for ‘weak learners’,” pinpoints Christian.

The Swedish and Finnish systems have established unitary comprehensive system that are better at providing access for all to higher education. The Danish and Norwegian systems have a separate track of apprenticeship, which is better at providing direct access to the labour market, also for disadvantaged youth.

Innovative solutions

“We have found a number of promising examples of innovations to manage the trade-offs in recent reforms of VET. Among these are intermediary institutions to bridge the world of education and the world of work”, says Helms Jørgensen, “such as Norwegian training offices, Swedish Yrkescolleges and Danish training centres.”

Another type of new institutions are hybrid programmes that in an integrated form offer journeyman’s certificate and eligibility for higher education (Norwegian TAF, Danish eux).

“Policy makers have a limited understanding of the multiple stakeholders and dynamics of the VET-system.”

The researcher’s analyses of VET reforms over the latest decades indicate that policies tend to be going in circles or swing between opposite solutions. This can be explained by unacknowledged trade-offs in the policy making process. Unacknowledged trade-offs result in unintended consequences of the political reforms, which later call for new reforms that seek to limit these unintended consequences.

Christian points out another explanation to the unsuccessful reforms: “Policy makers have a limited understanding of the multiple stakeholders and dynamics of the VET-system. These dynamics and stakeholders can limit the effects of political reforms. This is for example the case when policy makers launch VET initiatives to achieve social policy goals, and where companies and young people turn their back to these initiatives.”

Reintroducing apprenticeship

In all four Nordic countries, the governments have tried to strengthen or reintroduce apprenticeship with the aim of improving the transition to employment of young people who do not follow the academic route. While these initiatives have had success in Norway and Denmark, they have not been very successful in Sweden or Finland.

The Swedish experience in Gy11 demonstrated the risk of apprenticeship as a dead end in the education system if it does not offer eligibility for higher education.

“These problems are strong indications that apprenticeship systems depends on complex institutional conditions for engaging employers in high quality training and attracting young people to apprenticeship,” emphasizes Christian.

Among these conditions are high involvement of the labour market organisations, certification and protection of skills, open slots in the division of work for occupational work, control of the quality of work-based learning, and career opportunities after completion of VET including access to higher vocational education.

The case studies have pointed at the opportunities as well as the limitations of education policy in creating new occupations. Policy makers in all Nordic countries have tried to construct a new health occupation below the level of nurses. While this policy has been more successful in Denmark, it has less success in Norway due to lack of a strong coalition of stakeholders behind this initiative in Norway.

Christian has lead the project “The future of vocational education – learning from the Nordic countries” (2013–2016), part of NordForsk’s programme Education for Tomorrow, and together with his colleague Daniel Persson Thunqvist at University of Linköping, they are developing their research in the cross-cutting theme ‘Vocational education, transitions, marginalistaion, social justice’.

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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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