02 SES 10 B, VET and Higher Education
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)
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