Advanced Vocational Education in Sweden
Stockholm, 22-23 May 2003
The peer review meeting took place on 22 and 23 May 2003 in Stockholm and was hosted by the Ministry of Education and Science. The Review was attended by seven peer countries: Austria, Belgium, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom. Representatives from the Directorate General for Employment and Social Affairs and the Directorate General for Education and Culture of the European Commission also participated.
Advanced Vocational Education
In 1994, Swedish employers' organisations put forward proposals for a system of tertiary non-academic education with strong links to working life. A pilot project on Advanced Vocational Education (AVE) was launched in 1996. A commission including representatives of the social partners was appointed to run and monitor the pilot scheme. AVE was conceived as a post-secondary form of education for both young people coming directly from upper-secondary school and for older active professionals who want to update and supplement their vocational skills. The aim is that the courses should combine a practical orientation with in-depth theoretical knowledge. The interplay between theory and the workplace is important both for course quality and to meet the needs of the employment market and the students. AVE emphasises workplace learning. For one third of the course students are on placements in companies, honing their analytical skills, applying comprehensive approaches, and assuming responsibility. The workplace itself should be organised in such a manner as to make learning feasible, for example through the advanced supervision of the students. Although the aim of training is to impart familiarity with an occupation or vocational field, it must not be so narrow as to be in essence a form of in-house company training. AVE courses are run in a variety of sectors of the economy where skills shortages have made themselves felt, e.g. in information technology, health care, trade and tourism, agriculture, and the forestry industry. Courses may be divided into terms or conducted continuously with no interruption. The courses confer at least 40 "points" (i.e. 40 weeks of full-time study) and culminate in an AVE certificate. Students pay no fees but are responsible for their living costs. They are, however, entitled to the same grants and study loans as university students. Course providers can be upper-secondary schools, adult education centres, private training companies, and higher education institutes. Positive results led the Swedish Parliament to decide that AVE should be included in the regular educational system in Sweden from 2002 onwards under the administration of a body created specifically for this purpose, the Swedish Agency for Advanced Vocational Education. The key factor in the success of the AVE programme is that it remains demand-lead and flexible. Although having been "institutionalised" in its administration, the flexibility is retained through using course providers without building up a heavy infrastructure. It is the employers who provide the work placements which are crucial to the course and the supply of these is a key indicator of whether the skills are needed or not. If placements are not offered then the courses are cut back or withdrawn altogether. AVE is outcome oriented with its key success criteria being that the former students are in employment within 6 months of finishing their studies.
Aspects of transferability
At the peer review meeting the contents and achievements of the AVE programme to date were presented and discussed in detail. In the lively and many-faceted debate, issues such as the recognition of diplomas and the transferability of credits to other higher studies, keeping up a long term relationship with course providers within an annual budget cycle, how to simplify the administration and scrutiny of applications from course providers were brought up. Different aspects of the policy were considered transferable by the different peer countries depending on their respective systems of vocational education. The main aspects peer country experts and officials focused on were the mix of students and workers on the courses, the attention to outcome rather than input/output, the use of agencies as the key to flexibility, and the idea of the enterprise as a direct source of learning. The critical issue of evaluation was discussed as well as the importance of bridging the gap between the foundation courses and the university degrees. The demand-led orientation and flexibility of the Swedish AVE and the stakeholder involvement was very much appreciated by all participants.
Independent experts' paper
Statements and Comments
Participating independent experts
Austrian Institute of Economic Research
Walter VAN TRIER
University of Antwerp
|University of Tampere
|Joaquim Luis COIMBRA
|University of Porto
|Jose Antonio PONCELA
|Center of Economic Studies Tomillo