02 SES 17 C, Higher level vocational education: the route to high skills and productivity as well as greater equity? An International Comparative Analysis
New, distinctive forms of higher vocational education are growing rapidly across a range of countries, as demonstrated in the 2014 OECD Review Skills Beyond School. They respond to two key policy concerns: an emphasis on high skills as a means to achieve economic competitiveness and raise productivity; and the promise of open access for students hitherto excluded from higher education. This symposium examines these developments across five countries (England, Germany, Australia, Canada, USA) in relation to the following key questions:
What (if anything) is distinctive about evolving forms of higher vocational education?
How are these forms of provision positioned in relation to existing university HE?
How do questions of distinction and status play out in different country contexts?
Whose interests are served by higher vocational education?
What are the implications for equity and inequality in new and evolving forms of provision?
What can be learned in the European arena from this international comparison of higher vocational education?
The papers aim to address these questions in relation to specific country contexts, in order to highlight similarities and differences in developments within the European arena and a wider global context. They locate their analyses in the different political and socio-economic conditions within countries, which render particular reforms and innovations both possible and realizable in one context, but almost unthinkable in another. The emphasis is on policy learning through a critical understanding of differently evolving provision of higher vocational education, that refuses assumptions that policy borrowing from apparently successful countries offers a straightforward model for others to adopt. The papers therefore emphasise the impossibility of imposing uniformity across European countries, and argue for the need to recognize and embrace diversity, while using comparison across countries as a means of challenging taken-for-granted assumptions of how things are and what is possible within individual country contexts.
The first paper critically examines policy rationales for applied degrees in the US, Canada, England and Australia, using Trow (1974), neo-institutional theory on isomorphism and differentiation (Scott, 2014), and Clark’s (1983) ‘triangle of coordination’ to explore the roles of the state, the market and academic coordination of HE in liberal-market countries. The paper problematises the limited growth of college degrees, and shows how the hierarchical nature of HE systems keeps college-based HE in its place as a lower status route for disadvantaged students.
The second paper compares the promise with the reality of higher vocational education (HVE) in England, using Marginson’s (2016) notion of vertical ‘stretching’ of stratification in high participation HE systems. It argues that while HVE in England supports individual students to ‘realise the dream’, it does not challenge the dominant paradigm in England of a hierarchically stratified system, nor support greater social mobility.
The third paper analyses the emergence of vocational degrees in Australian colleges and their possible distinctiveness. The analysis is informed by the work of Bernstein (1990), and Bourdieu and Passeron (1977; 1984), and finds that while the ‘access mission’ is a distinctive legitimation for college baccalaureates, they nevertheless provide those from more affluent backgrounds with the opportunity to maintain their social advantage.
The fourth paper uses neo-institutional analysis to consider the nexus of employer interests and university standards in work-based HE in Germany. Although HE oﬀers the most assured pathways to secure careers and low unemployment rates, increasingly some groups question its taken-for-granted contributions. HE produces winners (“insiders”) and losers (“outsiders”), despite rising participation and the effects of the “schooled society” in shifting the occupational structure upward (Baker 2014). Rapidly expanding dual-study programs emphasize negotiation/ articulation of employer interests and university standards, highlighting distributional conﬂicts in the politics of skill investment (Graf 2016).
Baker, D. P. 2014. The Schooled Society: The Educational Transformation of Global Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Bernstein, B. (1990). The structuring of pedagogic discourse: Class, codes & control, Volume IV. London: Routledge. Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction, New York: Routledge Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J.C. (1977) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture, London: Sage Clark, Burton R. (1983). The higher education system: academic organization in cross-national perspective. Berkeley: University of California Press. Graf, L. 2016. The rise of work-based academic education in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 68(1): 1-16. Marginson, S. (2016) The worldwide trend to high participation higher education: dynamics of social stratification in inclusive systems, Higher Education, 72. 4: 413-434. OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) (2014) Skills Beyond School: Synthesis Report, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training. Paris: OECD Publishing. Scott, W. Richard. (2014). Institutions and organizations (4th ed. ed.). Los Angeles: Sage. Trow, Martin. (1974). Problems in the Transition from Elite to Mass Higher Education. Policies for Higher Education, OECD (Paris), 51-101.
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