Higher VET – An Emerging Sub-system of Education and Training in European Countries?
It is generally acknowledged that the labour market, in order to keep up with technological and economic change, increasingly requires higher level (professional) skills. For example, the introduction of new technologies (such as Key Enabling Technologies) calls for people with new type of skills at all levels – not only at the level of researchers and engineers who develop new materials and tools but also at the level of those who produce and maintain these. This area of mid-level technical skills creates a relatively new potential for expansion of vocational education and training (VET) at higher levels. However, VET at higher levels cannot be confined to technical skills only; jobs in the service sector also require occupation-specific skills that can be developed through higher VET.
The development of skills at higher levels and the enhancement of qualification levels of European citizens has been high on Europe’s political agenda since several years. The European Strategy 2020 considers high quality education and training systems which respond to the labour market needs of today and tomorrow as critical to making a successful transition towards a more competitive, sustainable and inclusive society. In 2010, EU Member States and the Commission have agreed upon that by 2020 at least 40% of 30-34 years old should have completed tertiary education or equivalent education (including all forms of studies at higher levels and not exclusively higher education). The Bruges Communiqué on enhanced European Cooperation in VET for the period 2011-2020 explicitly called on Member States to ‘develop or maintain post-secondary or higher VET at EQF [European Qualifications Framework] level 5 or higher, as appropriate’.
When looking at descriptions of national education and training systems, the term ‘higher VET’ can rarely be found as such although most countries have some forms of VET programmes or qualifications at higher ISCED levels (above ISCED 4) or EQF levels (above EQF level 4). The term ‘higher VET’ is emphasised in the European policy context because it is expected to provide graduates with good labour market outcomes and training closely linked to the labour market and its demands. However, it remains open how this is actually understood across Member States.
This paper refers to the following main research question: Are there any indications that ‘higher VET’ is emerging as a distinct sub-sector of education and training in Europe? VET in general is shaped by the particular institutional and historical developments in each country and its form is influenced by various external and contextual drivers, such as economic and social context or the degree of occupational regulation. Thus, it can be expected that VET at higher levels is also offered and organised in different ways and that European countries find different answers to European policies and address economic challenges including the demand for highly skilled labour force in different ways. However, it will be explored whether any common patterns can be identified across countries (such as the introduction of specific types of programmes or qualifications or institutions offering them) and whether there are any specific driving forces for the development of ‘higher VET’ (such as EU policy developments or the need for professionalization in specific fields). Furthermore, it will be particularly interesting to explore to which extent these developments across countries reflect the patterns of ‘vocationalsation’ and ‘academisation’ of education and training, a tendency recurrently observed by current literature on VET.
 Ministers in Charge of Vocational Education and Training (2010)
This paper builds on a research study covering all 28 EU Member States and which was designed to shed light on the characteristics of higher VET and its main trends and outcomes. The methodology includes quantitative and qualitative elements. It analyses international and national statistics on types of VET programmes and qualifications at higher levels. In particular, data on enrolment at different levels of education according to the ISCED 2011 categorisation as collected through the UOE data collection system jointly managed by Unesco, OECD and Eurostat was analysed. Furthermore, in-depth interviews with stakeholders at national and European levels as well as case studies at selected institutions providing higher VET were carried out.
This paper presents an overview of how ‘higher VET’ is understood in European countries. It explores the types of VET programmes and qualifications that are offered at higher qualification levels and whether they share any common characteristics, and how they are embedded in national qualifications landscapes. The dimensions which are interesting to be explored in this context in particular refer to the governance, provider type, programme design, learning outcomes and formats of delivery and cooperation models of the respective types of higher VET. Furthermore, the paper will shed light on the drivers and barriers towards the development of ‘higher VET’. In particular, the ‘trends and types’ of these developments across countries will be discussed as well as the role of the development of National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs) in this context.
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