Scholarly Technical Education Publication Series (STEPS) Vol. 3
TVET and Academic Education: A Blurring Distinction- New Opportunities for the Future
- Shyamal Majumdar
Senior Research Associate
Federal Institute of Vocational
Education and Training (BIBB)
This paper attempts to study the blurring distinction between TVET and academic Higher Education (HE) and the prerequisites to create stronger ties between these sectors by improving the chances of permeability and facilitating learning pathways.
Despite significant economic and social progress until date, high youth unemployment, social disparities and environmental degradations create challenges for all countries, which require the transformation of TVET through economic, social and environmental dimensions. TVET graduates will have to acquire a holistic competence, whether this is related to work, education, citizenship or personal issues and which is expected to adapt to complex and unpredictable conditions. This is to address any address economic, societal and personal developments and changes that is unfolding in the world today. The authors assume that a consequently implemented shift to competence oriented learning outcomes, addressing both theoretical and practicable occupational requirements in the development of programs and qualifications, will make the capability to act in TVET, across the education and training systems and the labour markets more explicit.
The authors assume that more qualification types and programs with cross-sector doctrine and competence-compatible design of curricula and examinations will have to be designed and monitored, which address requirements of both the occupational labour market and the academic education at the same level. They conclude the discussed developments and demand generate a new space for TVET future by the fusion of academic drift in vocational program and vocational drift in academic program, which will reinforce solutions to promote permeability and mobility across education and occupational sectors.
The Global Context and the TVET Agenda
Our time is an era of transitions. This is also a time of turbulence as well as time of challenges. The challenges which threaten the economy, society and the environment are numerous, complex and interconnected. In spite of significant economic and social progress till date, high youth unemployment, social disparities and environmental degradations create challenges for all countries. These challenges threaten human security, dignity and social cohesion. Peace is fragile. Large number of people in this world still suffers from poverty, hunger and inequalities. Many targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) remain big unfulfilled promises and need to be redefined in new and challenging environment of economic, social and environmental perspectives. Therefore a new vision for people, the planet, prosperity, peace and partnership has to be holistic, universal, rights-based and humanistic.
Global goals require global solidarity, international dialogue and an inter-sectoral, interdisciplinary approach as expressed in the commitment made at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015, ‘Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. The 2030 Agenda has 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 4 which reads, ‘To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. (cf. United Nations 2015)
Three targets are of special significance for Education and Training by 2030:
- ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical vocational education and training and tertiary education, including university;
- substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs, entrepreneurship, societal participation and personal development;
- eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.
Meeting these targets requires the transformation and expansion of TVET through appropriate conceptualizations in the design of qualifications and their articulation within education and between education and the world of work. TVET has a central role in helping youth and adults to develop the skills they need for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship, to support the effectiveness of their organizations and the development of their life and communities. TVET also contributes to promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, social equity and environmental sustainability. TVET contributes to gender equality, global citizenship education (GCE) and education for sustainable development (ESD). It is of high relevance to transform TVET in a way to maximize its potential to contribute to the achievement of global goals. Accordingly, it is a global task to follow each one of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) including e.g. poverty alleviation and hunger, gender equality, good health, quality education, good decent jobs, renewable energy, fostering innovation and building infrastructure or actions towards the protection of the environment and social security & peace.
These 17 SDGs are broken down into 169 targets which aim to realize inclusive and equitable economic, social and environmental sustainable development.
Transformative Dimensions and Concepts
Such holistic visions challenge TVET strategies require not only inclusive, equitable and relevant for the needs of work but also transformative and environmentally sustainable. Therefore, skills development and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) being high on member states’ policy agenda and so central to international debates, has never been so important and timely as now. It is now at the centre stage in the policy discourse and debate. A large number of member states are deeply engaging in reviewing TVET policies and repositioning its transformative dimension to meet the sustainability development goals (SDG). Following are the key elements of these transformative dimensions.
The most important effect of economic globalization on the modes of work has been manifested at the level of the organization of industrial production. The shift from mass production to a customized approach causes a fragmentation of value chains. A growing proportion of workers are employed in global value chains located in developing economies.
TVET graduates will have to acquire more than the technical Know How required in production but a range of soft skills e.g. the adaptability to constantly changing teams, work environments, communication skills and team work. This reflects a need for not just a more knowledgeable and skilled workforce, but one that can adapt quickly to new emerging technologies in a cycle of continuous learning. As a consequence, there is increasing demand for TVET systems with a greater focus on competency-based programs as well as on cognitive and transferable skills, which are expected to help people adapt to complex and unpredictable conditions. (Majumdar, 2004)
In addition the ICT based Industry 4.0 development will dramatically change company-based organized production and service as transnationally operating value chains. The ICT use is required in a large variety of existing occupations, as well as an expansion of new occupations in the ICT sector. Last but not least the politically induced shift form carbon-intensive production and consumption to economies and societies consequent following sustainable development principles require increasingly green skills, changing skills profiles in existing occupations and the emergence of new occupations, with the introduction of new regulations. Majumdar, 2010
To address these economic, societal and personal developments and changes appropriately TVET graduates will have to acquire prospectively a holistic competence, whether this is related to work, education, citizenship or personal issues.
Growing Demand of STEM and other Science Related Knowledge in Occupations
Knowledge-based jobs in the main occupational areas of manufacturing as well as primary and secondary service areas are increasing globally (Raffe, 2013). The policy debate has gained momentum due to the mere fact that today’s global economy and society is driven by knowledge. The knowledge-based economy recognizes the key role of emerging technologies in providing a basis for the generation, management and utilization of knowledge as it has never been before. The major shift in emerging technology is dominated by the move from divergent to convergent technologies. Divergent technology had been earlier characterized as mono discipline and more structured with limited fusion between different disciplines.
In contrast, today’s convergent technologies, including information & communication technology (ICT), bio technology, nano technology, energy technology, green technology, space technology, and entertainment technology etc., are interdisciplinary in nature and are a combination of more than one discipline. They are also oriented to research and development and largely information-intensive have relied upon Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as foundation or basis for growth and innovation.
With these changes in technology, technical knowledge has raised more demands, requiring solid foundation skills on STEM. These skills include adaptability and learning to learn skills that make learners adapt to the fast changing occupational challenges. They are vital to building up the future skills profile of the people. Thus the development of a strong STEM knowledge base would need need greater adaptability. There should be a creation of opportunities to develop trainable learners while keeping in mind the dynamic changes in technology. More and more complex equipment are expected to be used in all range of occupations, from construction to service sector.
Designing, building, installation, operations and maintenance- type of jobs will demand medium to high level of STEM skills as occupations continue to be profiled or skills are standardized to meet broad-ranging tasks. The expansion of STEM in vocational education is therefore critical to meet jobs and give the workforce valuable STEM skills that correspond to the rising quality of jobs in key sectors. Strengthening the implementation of STEM in TVET will contribute to the conceptual change in the perception of TVET. The line between TVET and academic higher education is blurring and it is especially obvious in STEM fields. TVET qualifications increase the entry points to STEM jobs while these jobs are best filled by the workforce that possesses an adequate mix of STEM knowledge and practical skills. (Majumdar, 2015)
The trend toward higher qualification of skilled workers and managers promotes the discussion about the extent to which the vocational professionalization of this qualification can be designed along academic requirements in connection with higher education. In many countries, VET and HE institutions have different status, e.g. the scope, responsibilities and functions of competent institutions vary greatly when it comes to examination, recognition and the awarding of qualifications and certificates.
Importance of Theory-Practice Linked Education and Training
Occupational learning in work-based environments is to increasing extent practiced in the industries of many countries worldwide compared to the still dominant formats of full-time vocational and technical education practiced in schools. Currently a quarter of students in upper secondary vocational education attend work-based programs. Work-based learning refers to any form of learning for youth and adults that is implemented embedded in workplaces. Historically it has been predominantly developed as part of vocational training e.g. in apprenticeships in trades, but it can be practiced in many variations e.g. in internships. (Lerman and Rain, 2015)
It is generally acknowledged that work-based learning can meet appropriately the education and training needs of the learners and the employers. It improves pedagogy and pathways to adulthood. It reduces costs and increases capacities of initial and continuing TVET. Due to the increasing demand for systematized knowledge exclusive work-based learning is more and more extended by institutionally integrated learning formats as apprenticeships combined with vocational school or college-based education (work to school) or as company based internships of students at schools or colleges (school to work) e.g. in the US. Work-based learning is - still to minor extent - practiced in academic education. In recent years tertiary programs have been consistently introduced combining academic studies with applied learning in the professional world. They are systematically practiced in cooperation predominantly with private companies. (Rein, 2015)
Vocational Bachelor programs have been developed and implemented in France and in Germany (dual study) combining theoretical studies with on-the-job training. Students alternate between university education and work-based learning, giving them the opportunity to apply concepts learnt in class to practice and vice-versa bring in new ideas from their work placements into the classroom. This provision of education and training at higher qualification levels includes employer involvement in curriculum development e.g. Denmark in the agricultural sector, work-based assignments and company based thesis works e.g. Germany and Ireland in innovation and technology management courses. This may be practiced in apprenticeships e.g. France in the agriculture sector and in UK-England in nursing and in teacher training. Since a long time Higher Education cooperative education in the US extend academic programs on all graduation levels by academic external practical learning phases. In a format systematized way the Graduate School of Education at the University of California in Berkeley developed even a Ph.D. apprenticeship program. (Lerman & Rein, 2015)
Facing a trend to systematized theory-practice linked education and training on initial and continuing VET as well as in academic Higher Education the question may be raised whether the institutional differentiation between work to school or school to work describe sufficiently the phenomenon work-based learning. Furthermore it may be critically questioned whether the comprehension of practice and the acquired relevant competence should be better understand and operationalized independent from only one specific learning location e.g. the enterprise as it has been done up to now.
The Shift from Input to Competencies and Learning Outcomes
In the 90s, education researchers and practitioners as well as employers in many countries started to set the ability of learners to solve problems and to accomplish tasks in education and at the workplace. Learning is increasingly interpreted as an integral part both of adapting to changing circumstances and innovation as well as essential for personal development. The focus shifts from providers to users of education and training. It is also an effort to increase transparency and strengthen accountability of qualifications for the benefit of individual learners and employers. This does not mean that any education and training input like content communicated and acquired in programs via curricula and appropriate didactic methodologies should be neglected but be regarded and applied as necessary prerequisites of the outcomes of learning. (Arnold & Muller, 1993)
It is assumed that a consequent shift to competence oriented learning outcomes, addressing both theoretical and practicable occupational requirements in the development of programs and qualifications, will make the capability to act in TVET, across the education and training systems and the labour markets more explicit. In terms of quality development of qualifications and programs, this might be further promoted by theory-practice integrated learning outcome concepts facilitated by cooperating education providers and work place training providers like enterprises. (Breuer, 2015)
Essential for any successful occupation provided by TVET is a provision of a profound basis of relevant technical knowledge and skills. Changing work environments, in addition lifelong learning, greening TVET, globalisation and other major drivers of transformation require domain independent transversal competencies concerning cognitive, interpersonal and adaptability skills, attitudes, values and work habits to enable any successful transformational process and task accomplishments. (Rein, 2012)
Emerging Trends in Post-Secondary Education: Some Exemplary Evidences
The increasing knowledge-based requirements in manufacturing and service areas in many countries require appropriate systemic and conceptual adaptations of postsecondary education and training to address the needs of the societies, labour markets and the learners in terms of lifelong learning (Raffe, 2003). TVET is increasingly taking place at higher levels (e.g. EQF level 5 and more) and is growing in terms of enrolment in a number of programs. An increasing demand of learners and employers has led to a booming development of post-secondary TVET qualifications (EU, 2015). Demographic trends will have a direct impact on the size and orientation of education and training systems, the learner profiles and the design and delivery of programs. Adults are staying longer in the labour market and need increasing flexibility from education and training institutions, to combine work and study in order to improve their career prospects or to change careers in later life.
In recent years a number of programs have been developed in both initial and advanced TVET that contains elements of both vocational drift and academic drift in different forms to satisfy the emerging demand of labour market. The quantitative development of these kinds of programs largely reflected in ISCED 1997 Level 5 development. Although strictly speaking ISCED level-5 falls under tertiary education but researchers interpreted it as Tertiary TVET. It has been observed that ISCED 1997 does not have the level of detail required to reflect the tremendous diversity in TVET program globally. According to the OECD survey conducted in 13 countries between the years 1995 and 2011 as per table below, the level 5 program has increased by 19% points in OECD countries and even in country like Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Finland it has been recorded more than doubled. (cf. Hippach-Scheider 2016)
To understand, the trend in proper context, it is required to look further the evolution of the ISCED level 5 programs in some countries.
In Finland, tertiary education is separated between research oriented paths (Universities) and a more practice-oriented path (Universities of Applied Sciences, also called Polytechnics). The educational programs at the Polytechnics are allocated to ISCED level 5A although they are expressly assigned to the area of vocational education and training. To make sure that the qualifications relate to the labour market and the regional demand for skilled labour and innovation in the desired way, practical phases are an obligatory part of the courses of study considering that the “polytechnics” are a relatively new educational institution in the country. (Hippach-Scheider, 2016)
Similarly, in Austria, universities offer degree programs (Diplom Studiengänge) which offer two to three years of courses in artistic and vocational education and training. There are also vocational courses offered as a Bachelor’s degree corresponding with a specific vocational area. There has been a significant increase in Level 5 A program in Austria and it is almost more than triple between the year 1995 to 2011 as per table.
Higher education programs combining academic and vocational elements respectively theoretical and practical learning have evolved in the Anglo-Saxon countries, as well. A common feature of these countries is a very high proportion of graduates from ISCED 5A programs (201): Australia, 50%, UK 55%, Ireland 43%. Short cycle tertiary education (ISCED 5) exist in both Higher Education and TVET. The “Diploma” is a qualification shared by both tracks. It leads to “Advanced Diploma” (TVET) or “Associate degree” (Higher Education. In Australia, the Associate Degrees (ISCED 5A) are understood to be both academically and vocationally qualifying and have been introduced as qualifications in recent years. They have been integrated into the Australian Qualifications Framework in 2004. The educational programs leading to an associate degree are open to all those who have acquired a vocational qualification (certificates III or IV), as well. The program duration is two years.
The traditional binary divide, i.e. academic Higher Education offered by universities and higher professional education institutions is becoming more complex. In Norway nursing education is becoming part of academic Bachelor and Master Degree programs. In UK meanwhile, polytechnics were reintegrated into the university sector in UK (England). Associate degrees in NL and degree apprenticeships in UK addressing EQF level 5 are on the rise during the last 20 years. The public regional dual Cooperative University in Germany design and provide Bachelor and Master programs in cooperation with enterprises following the German dual apprenticeship format. In addition private sector providers to address this development at higher levels can also be identified in some countries (e.g. in Germany and in Ireland). Associate Degree programs at level 5 of the European Qualifications Framework (EU 2008) are provided by Dutch higher professional education institutions. An increasing number of non-academic certificate programs become embedded in degree programs. In the US community colleges integrate e.g. occupational certifications and apprenticeships in associate programs since a long time. (Rein 2011)
In some of the countries in Asia like in China, the government is trying to develop a policy to establish good higher vocational college, by converting existing normal universities into Vocational Universities. "Gaozhi Higher Vocational Colleges" is the most equivalent type to the ISCED 5 and 6 levels. According to Ministry of Education (MoE) of China, it has been observed that the number of the higher vocational colleges in China was 1341 during 2015. There are about 747 specialized subjects offered by higher vocational colleges which require strong academic background, and 344 of the subjects are coherent with the bachelor education. Following the Chinese government’s policy of providing opportunities to students of secondary vocational schools to be able to pursue higher education (tertiary level) there has been an increasing number of Vocational Universities / Higher Vocational Colleges (see Table 2).
Table 2 shows an increase of 126 in the number of Higher Vocational Colleges over last 6 years. The number of applicants who went on to vocational university or college has stay 42%-43% before 2009. And then it decreased continuously to 36.8% in 2013. However, there has been an increasing ratio of applicants for vocational schools as a result of government policies that facilitate students’ move from general education schools to vocational schools from 2014. China’s policies for vocational education converging with higher education program apparently have considerably improved its image in the public perception. Similarly, in terms of gender differences the statistics show that women score better in exams than boys.
In Germany, there is a movement to build bridges between higher and vocational education through cross cutting education program in IT occupations in particular. It has been observed that DQR Bridge 5 project is developing cross-cutting education measures at Level 5 of the German Qualification Framework (BMBF&KMK, 2011) for which credit transfer can be granted within the framework of an upgrading training program and a Bachelor’s degree program.
The Federal Government funded project “Promoting permeability to produce skilled workers – developing cross-cutting education and training measures in Higher and Vocational Education at level 5 of the German Qualifications Framework” is exploring the potentials of this Qualifications Framework level (BIBB, 2016). In cooperation between vocational education and training providers, chamber organisations and higher education institutions with academic backup, interlocking forms of curricula provision are being developed which are valid for both sectors of education and training, i.e. as the first tier of upgrading training and also eligible for credit towards a degree. The educational and training provision is coupled with advisory measures which are, in turn, being developed and realised across educational sectors.
The models are being developed in the DQR Bridge project for the Information Technology sector among others. The design of education and training measures across educational sectors can combine learning outcome units from different sectors of education, e.g. modules from degree program, units of learning outcomes from advanced vocational training and qualifications such as a recognised initial occupational qualification. In the figure below the cross cutting learning arrangement between TVET and H.E in the IT sector are shown in Figure 2.
In the figure, units of learning outcomes are shown as squares; qualifications are represented by the outlined grouped units of learning outcomes, and triangles stand for the add-ons which are explained further below. In this respect, courses taught across educational sectors represent flexible structures. An individual assemblage of units of learning outcomes, qualifications and add-ons is denoted by the part of the diagram shaded in yellow. The individual provision represented by the yellow area contains a “complete” qualification from VE and training - The initial vocational qualification as an IT Specialist (“Fachinformatiker”). A higher education qualification – a degree in Informatics at Bachelor’s level – is only partially integrated in this case. Cross-cutting courses may combine higher education degree programs or certificate courses, but also other modules; bridging courses, for example. Add-ons are additional elements which increase the attractiveness of the learning arrangements, for example, the prospect of taking over a skilled crafts enterprise. (Hemkes et al. 2015)
All these trends in different countries are showing that a growing evidence of developing higher VET programs and wide range of models to create stronger links between academic, professional and practice related learning. In the subsequent section we have made further analysis in terms of implication and lesson learned from these trends.
The Blurring Conceptual Distinction Between TVET and Academic Education
The reforms and developments in post-secondary education indicate a blurring conceptual distinction between TVET and academic Higher Education. The ongoing debate in many countries on the pros and cons of an academization of TVET or a vocationalization of Higher Education can be interpreted as a converging trend to design education and training based on enforced theory-practice linkages on all levels of workforce and learner requirements and competencies. In both TVET and academic Education there is a potentially compatible competence-related orientation for the design of educational pathways and qualifications evident, both implicit, and, to some extent, explicit. This inherent conceptual intersection of the educational approaches in the qualification goal of acquiring competence as capability to act represents a considerable prerequisite for the design of the permeability of educational pathways between vocational and higher education. (Rein, 2012)
However the traditional focus on the labour market as the exclusive empirical basis to identify required competencies for qualifications on higher levels with more complex requirement structures is not sufficient to design academic and advanced non-academic qualifications. Due to the dynamic development of researchbased knowledge, Higher Education is directly involved in education and training program developments and identifies and defines labour market requirements and competencies (technical and transversal) inside and outside the academia, because it is an essential part of the economic and societal value production and innovation. This extended comprehension of academic Higher Education matches as well the ongoing convergence trend between the education and training systems. In addition it has to be stressed from a holistic education point of view that both VET and academic qualifications have to meet in many countries not only technical professional requirements but also societal and personal requirements, as it is legally established in their education acts. (Rein, 2015)
It is assumed that a consequent shift to learning outcomes, addressing compatibly both academic and occupational requirements in the development of qualifications, will make the capability to act across the education and training systems more explicit. Consequently, this will facilitate the visibility of the intersection and compatibility of Vocational and Higher Education approaches. In terms of quality development of qualifications and programs, this might be further promoted by integrated learning outcome concepts based on theory-practice linkages in ‘traditional’ degree programs as well as in embedded degree programs which integrate academic and work based learning in an adapted way e.g. as dual study.
More qualification types and programs with cross-sector doctrine and competencecompatible design of curricula and examinations will have to be designed and monitored, which address requirements of both the occupational labour market and the academic education and career pathways at the same level. Recent research on theory–practice integrated curricula in traditional and in embedded degree programs (e.g. dual or short cycle) has confirmed the promising development potential of these qualification formats for cross-sector and action-oriented learning promoted by a shift to learning outcomes. (Rein, 2015)
Way Forward: A New Space for TVET Future
To promote Higher VET within the tertiary sector the European Commission proposes three models: parallel track to academic education, HVET as one of the two segments of academic HE within the three-degree cycles of the European Higher Education Area framework and at last HVET qualifications could be part of Adult Learning and Continuous VET (cf. EUCOM 2016). In terms of bridging HVET and academic HE to promote cross sector education paths UNESCO stresses the demand to develop sustainable and practicable procedures of articulations aligned to national qualifications frameworks which had been developed and implemented in most of the countries (cf. UNESCO 2016).
The trends discussed above have generated a new space for VET future by the fusion of academic drift in vocational program and vocational drift in academic program. According to Raffe (2003), a drift can take many forms. However, it can be distinguished in three major forms of perspectives, content, longitudinal and integrated. The outcome of these approaches will reinforce solutions that promote permeability and mobility across education and occupational sectors. In turn, it provides more options and informed choices to the learners in selecting career and occupations across jobs.
The challenge for any TVET credentialing processes is not only to match a specific educational and occupational demand. In terms of a new lifelong learning continuum within TVET and across the systems it has to be safeguarded that any revised or new credential is connectible to others, to pathways across postsecondary education and training systems and matches acknowledged quality standards. Again, a consequent shift to competence oriented learning outcomes facilitated by transparency instruments like qualifications frameworks, aligned with recognition of prior learning regulations and credit transfer systems will promote such a development. Credential types and programs with a competence-compatible design of curricula and assessments are promising, which address requirements of both the occupational
labour market and academic education and career pathways at the same level. If the conceptual differences between tertiary education sub-sectors are considered to be limited, or of limited relevance from the perspective of the development of effective knowledge policies that include tertiary level VET, what is the rationale for treating tertiary level VET as a separate policy area. Will a converging part between vocational and professional education emerge without catching up with the traditional part of academic Higher Education? A further question is whether an occupational-oriented academic Hybrid-Sector could generate a greater dynamic, if it is not incorporated in the regulatory Higher Education system and in the vocational education at the same time. Does educational hybrid-sector and its specific programs and qualifications need an independent regulation system?
This paper attempted to study the above trends, to create stronger ties between TVET and academic HE by improving the chances of permeability, facilitating learning pathways and more and more blurring the distinction between H.E and Higher VET. However any substantial decision making process demand further insights on this matter with increasing priority
- to collect more evidences and conduct more researches to highlights its importance,
- to strive for broader agreements among member states in defining structure of post-secondary TVET qualifications and
- to improve the parameter of articulation between TVET and academic Higher Education
- to investigate the nature of academic drift in the post-secondary VET terms of the content and the didactics to justify the upgradation in substance.
Thus, by commissioning studies it can further reconfirm the great opportunities and potential for TVET to develop at higher qualification levels EQF level 5 and above in converging directions. Such VET at higher qualifications will help to overcome the age-old stigma of TVET unattractiveness by providing more learning pathways to the graduates in selecting career and occupations. Above developments generate a new space for TVET future by the fusion of academic drift in vocational program and vocational drift in academic program, which will reinforce solutions to promote permeability and mobility across education and occupational sectors.
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