The role of vocational education in the Nordic Education Model

Professor Christian Helms Jørgensen, Roskilde University, Denmark

The Nord-VET project examines and compares the systems of initial vocational education and training (VET) in four Nordic countries with a special interest in social inclusion and equality.

The project finds that the divergent Nordic VET-systems have responded differently to a number of common trade-offs and political dilemmas for VET. These dilemmas concern the permeability, equality, employability, esteem and social inclusion in VET.

The project has found that reforms must recognise and manage these trade-offs to be efficient. Otherwise, unintended negative consequences of political initiatives are likely to reduce the total effects of the measures.

Political initiatives to increase the social inclusiveness of VET carry a risk of reducing the attractiveness of VET for young people and employers. Initiatives to increase the employability of VET students by connecting the VET programmes closer to the labour market tend to weaken the connection to higher education. This can make VET appear as an educational ‘dead end’.

Reforms that give priority provide eligibility for higher education for all students, are likely to be less inclusive for non-academic students. Consequently, reforms of the Nordic VET-systems include some basic trade-offs between the aims of social equality and social inclusion in education. 

Policy makers can learn from the way these trade-offs have been managed in other Nordic countries, but they cannot rely on import or borrowing of policies or institutions. In a historical process, the balancing of interests and responsibilities have been institutionalised quite differently in the four Nordic VET-systems. Due to the differences in institutional architectures of VET, similar political measures tend to have different effects in the four countries.

However, the project has identified a number of interesting innovations to manage the dilemmas. These innovations can provide inspiration in other countries for new initiatives to improve social inclusion and equality in VET at the same time.