Free education in Austria

The hybridization of vocational training and higher education in

Dr. Lukas Graf (Universoty of Luxembourg)This guest entry is written by Dr. Lukas Graf who works at the Institute of Education and Society (University of Luxembourg). Previously Lukas was a research fellow at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center where he studied the changing relationship between vocational training and higher education in international comparison.

The post draws on a recent book: Graf, L. (2013) The Hybridization of Vocational Training and Higher Education in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Opladen/Berlin/Toronto, Budrich UniPress. Click here to download the book for free.

This guest entry looks at institutional changes in the relationship between vocational education and training (VET) and higher education (HE) in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. It is quite common for foreign observers to praise these three countries for the quality of their VET systems. All three countries are part of the “collective skill system cluster” (Busemeyer and Trampusch 2012) and are renowned for their extensive dual apprenticeship training systems at upper-secondary level.

Dual apprenticeship training distinguishes itself from vocational training in most other European countries as it integrates training in schools and companies on the basis of extensive mediation and coordination between the state, employers, and labor representatives. In this “dual corporatist” model, practical vocational training plays a more dominant role than academic, general education – at least when compared to the two other “classic” training models, the “liberal market economy” model (e.g., in the United Kingdom) and the “state-regulated bureaucratic” model (e.g., in France) (Greinert 2005).

However, in recent years Austria, Germany, and Switzerland have also faced increasing criticism regarding the lack of permeability they provide between VET and HE. That is, as well as having an extensive system of dual apprenticeship training, there is also a historically evolved strong institutional divide between the fields of VET and HE in all three countries. In analyzing the case of Germany, Baethge (2006) has referred to this institutional divide as an “educational schism.” In fact, it can be argued that the education systems of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland are made up of two separate organizational fields, one for VET and one for HE. Over the past decades this institutional divide has been increasingly called into question. For example, the demand for skills in the workplace has changed towards more general analytical skills and away from narrowly defined job-specific skills, which challenges the main emphasis of vocational education and training practices. Furthermore, the rise in the level of average skill requirements in the service economy and knowledge society, as well as the rise in young peoples’ educational aspirations, call for greater permeability between the fields of VET and HE.


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