Author(s):Philipp Gonon (presenting)

Conference:ECER 2016, Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers

Network:02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)


Session Information

02 SES 02 A, Reflections on VET: Looking to the Future

Paper Session


Room:Vet-Theatre 116

Chair:James Avis


The Expansion of (dual) VET in Switzerland – Actor Consensus and Legislation as a Driver for Establishing VET

Why did VET expand in Switzerland and what elements were crucial that a dual model gained such an important role?

The focus of international comparative research in Vocational Education and Training (VET) is on the one hand on questions like policy borrowing, policy transfer or policy learning. Researchers in this field stress the fact that adaption of a model from outside is quite difficult and often not very sustainable. On the other hand the research on the establishment of VET is closely linked to a Varieties of Capitalism- and a pathway-approach, which helps to explain why established VET systems are so stable and different in different countries. A third strand is the cultural approach, which explains the development and national profile of VET through political and occupational cultures. All these perspectives rely on governance concepts and stress the importance of actors.

This paper is based as well on these assumptions, which are not seen as contradictory. Local and national actors play a decisive role in establishing and changing a VET system. Important is to fix up  legislation process, which is open enough to integrate diverse interests.

The development of the  dual system of vocational education and training (VET) was not the work of masterminds or the result of clear concepts but resulted out of individual measures. They unfolded so to speak evolutionarily and crystallized in the course of the 20th century. Elementary curriculum school reform, policy to meet the industrial needs and to support arts and crafts, social policy and political concerns about integration into nation as well as competition with foreign countries, were diverse layers, which helped to establish a VET system including work-based learning and schooling. These specific modes of VET flourish in the German-speaking countries and regions and are deeply rooted in the nation-specific political culture. This perspective is unfolded in this contribution by the case of Switzerland.

After some searching at the beginning of the 20th century, the predominance of the dual model of vocational education has become clear. “Workshop apprenticeship” had to be completed by school, after 1895 at the latest almost all actors agreed on this opinion. The decisive regulation mechanism, which made the “dual system” the general system in Switzerland, was the first law in 1930 on a federal level. This law reduced particularisms but set up an open framework, which integrated diverse interests of arts and crafts associations, unions, big industry companies and statist actors. In 1963, 1978, and 2002 further federal laws followed which set the ground for expanding VET in Switzerland, by integrating all non-academic professions and making the VET system more flexible. Furthermore the VET system today also opens up the way to higher education by offering pahtways to the Universities of Applied Sciences as well as to Higher Professional Vocational Education. Thus the VET system today  (2014) includes 70% of 16-year old youth and is the strongest part of the Upper Secondary Level.

One significant step forward for vocational education resulted from the 1999 revision of the federal constitution and the amendment of 2006,  which now, according to Article 63, entitles the Federal Government on a clear constitutional basis to regulate vocational education and indeed to become active, in cooperation with the Cantons, to establish an “educational space Switzerland” across all fields of education (BV 2006, Art. 61a). Besides the statist actors, the arts and crafts, industry and business assocations and the unions find a common ground for furhtering VET even today.



The methodology is build upon theoretical assumptions, which lead the content analysis of documents and publications. The historical and path-dependent approach, close to historical institutionalism, focuses on actors and the deliberation of regulations, which were analyzed systematically.

The theoretical perspective is the background for the analysis of the deliberation corpus of the actors in Switzerland. Another element is the review of the actual discourse in the light of newspapers and scientific debate (policy papers and research literature).
Three aspects belong each to one of these perspectives are in the focus:
(1) the role of the three main actors (administration, federal states and the organisations of the world of work like business associations) in the light of the development of Swiss VET.
(2) The policy of keeping the occupational focus within the Educational System in order to strengthen the vocational part
(3) The justification of a specific way of Swiss policy

Expected Outcomes

The research project and its findings, based on a project funded by the Swiss National Foundation, reveal that a broad consensus of actors is crucial, to establish and develop a VET system. Thus an open legislation as a framework ("Rahmengesetz") is possible which is able to integrate diverse interests. This "common ground" ("Einverständnisgemeinschaft" cf. Weber 1975) enables incremental change. Furthermore it helped to establish a comprehensive system which is part of the educational system as a whole.


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Author Information

Philipp Gonon (presenting)
University of Zurich
Institut für Erziehungswissenschaft