AN ASSESSMENT OF SWEDISH HIGHER VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
Helen Osieja Teaching and Learning Consultant (SWEDEN)
The main aim of higher vocational education is providing the labour market of the country in question with a qualified work force. Nevertheless, because in Sweden higher vocational education is not provided by autonomous educational institutions, politics play a decisive role in the allocation of resources. Another important political factor is providing an alternative to unemployed young adults who would otherwise find it very hard to join the labour market. Ideally, the private sector, which represents the overwhelming majority of potential employers, plays a role in curriculum design of higher vocational programs, allocating resources, providing input to educational institutions and providing internships for students. In Sweden, higher vocational education is less than a decade old and still has many shortcomings, from a low to very low quality to not meeting the demands of employers. The author of this article has worked in higher vocational education in Germany, at the Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg, and in Sweden, at the Folkuniversitetet and at the Travel Education Centre. The aim of this paper is to critically analyse higher vocational education in Sweden from a comparative perspective, and to suggest practical solutions to the many problems it faces.
Defining the aims of higher vocational education:
Higher vocational education differs from higher education both quantitatively (the duration of the study programs) and qualitatively: the aims of higher vocational education are providing the students with theoretical and practical tools that will help them join the labour market- research is therefore not relevant in this type of education. While theory plays a role in higher vocational study programs, it is its daily application what counts, since the aim of higher vocational education providers is precisely to satisfy the needs of employers. Higher vocational education has to be relatively dynamic in nature, due to the fact that the labour market is dynamic and its needs might change with time.
The nature of higher vocational education:
Whereas most universities in the West are autonomous, that is, they decide upon resource allocation, higher vocational education is dependent on governmental decisions on resource allocation: Universities might decide to keep offering purely theoretical programs, like philosophy, which do not satisfy the needs of the labour market, but which are fundamental in any institution which calls itself a university. Higher vocational colleges, on the other hand, depend on the demand of employers for certain qualifications and on politically motivated decisions.
Higher vocational education in Sweden:
One of the most serious shortcomings of higher vocational education in Sweden is precisely that the higher vocational educational board seems to be more motivated by politics than by the real needs of the Swedish labour market. A high unemployment rate among immigrants, grade inflation in the Swedish educational system as a whole, cheating and plagiarism, and quantitative, rather than qualitative criteria for resource allocation have negatively affected the academic results of most institutions of higher vocational education.