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The hybridization of vocational training and higher education in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland


Lukas Graf

This entry looks at institutional changes in the relationship between vocational education and training (VET) and higher education (HE) in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland[i]. It is quite common for foreign observers to praise these three countries for the quality of their VET systems. All three countries are part of the “collective skill system cluster” (Busemeyer and Trampusch 2012) and are renowned for their extensive dual apprenticeship training systems at upper-secondary level. Dual apprenticeship training distinguishes itself from vocational training in most other European countries as it integrates training in schools and companies on the basis of extensive mediation and coordination between the state, employers, and labor representatives. In this “dual corporatist” model, practical vocational training plays a more dominant role than academic, general education – at least when compared to the two other “classic” training models, the “liberal market economy” model (e.g., in the United Kingdom) and the “state-regulated bureaucratic” model (e.g., in France) (Greinert 2005).


However, in recent years Austria, Germany, and Switzerland have also faced increasing criticism regarding the lack of permeability they provide between VET and HE. That is, as well as having an extensive system of dual apprenticeship training, there is also a historically evolved strong institutional divide between the fields of VET and HE in all three countries. In analyzing the case of Germany, Baethge (2006) has referred to this institutional divide as an “educational schism.” In fact, it can be argued that the education systems of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland are made up of two separate organizational fields, one for VET and one for HE. Over the past decades this institutional divide has been increasingly called into question. For example, the demand for skills in the workplace has changed towards more general analytical skills and away from narrowly defined job-specific skills, which challenges the main emphasis of vocational education and training practices. Furthermore, the rise in the level of average skill requirements in the service economy and knowledge society, as well as the rise in young peoples’ educational aspirations, call for greater permeability between the fields of VET and HE.


Given that the above-mentioned educational schism hinders individuals’ mobility between the respective organizational fields, institutional changes in the relationship between the fields of VET and HE that would lead to increased inter-sectorial permeability are central to enhancing educational and social mobility and life chances. In Austria, Germany, and Switzerland children are usually sorted into vocationally-oriented or academically-oriented school tracks at a very early stage (in some cases by the age of ten). An increase in institutional permeability between VET and HE would reduce the impact of entering a specific educational pathway at an early stage on the range of alternative educational pathways feasible at a later stage and, hence, contribute to the “de-endogenization” of individual life courses. This is all the more relevant since some parts of the VET systems in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland are struggling to provide young people with training opportunities or decent chances on the labor market. In addition, the institutional divide between VET and HE is being increasingly challenged by recent developments at the European level. European education and training reforms, like the Bologna and Copenhagen processes, have been gaining in strength incrementally but forcefully, and have also been demanding greater mobility between VET and HE (Powell et al. 2012). In this context, one of the key tools is the European Qualification Framework (EQF), which was formally adopted by the European Parliament and Council in April 2008. One of the basic goals of the EQF is to increase permeability between VET and HE, as it subsumes both under one qualification framework on the basis of a review of all qualifications available within a national education system by the relevant national stakeholders.


In consideration of the variety of contemporary dynamics in skill formation sketched above, the following question arises: How do the relatively similar skill formation systems in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland deal with the aforementioned challenges to the rigid institutional divide between VET and HE and with what implications for institutional permeability between these two organizational fields? Baethge (2006, on Germany) argues that the separate institutionalization of and the resulting divide between VET and HE stem from the pre-industrial era and are rooted so deeply in the social structure of society, as well as the mode of diversified quality production, that all efforts at reform over the 20th century have failed to transform it. From this perspective, there seems to be little prospect for transformative change in the divided relationship between VET and HE.


However, based on document analysis and, most importantly, several dozen expert interviews carried out with key stakeholders in all three countries between 2010 and 2011, the key finding from my fieldwork in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland is that all three countries are increasingly relying on hybridization – a specific combination of organizational and institutional elements from the two organizational fields of VET and HE – to introduce gradual institutional reforms within their long-established skill formation systems. However, due to specific factors in the respective national institutional contexts, hybridization is realized in distinct organizational forms: (1.) the dual study programs in Germany, (2.) the berufsbildende höhere Schule (higher vocational school with higher education entrance qualification, BHS) in Austria, and (3.) the Swiss organizational configuration of universities of applied sciences that directly build on dual apprenticeship training and a vocational baccalaureate.


(1.) Dual study programs combine in-company work experience with tertiary studies at vocational academies (Berufsakademien), cooperative universities (Duale Hochschulen), universities of applied science, or universities. That is, there are always at least two learning environments. Furthermore, in dual study programs, students and firms are bound by a training, part-time, practical training, or internship contract and students earn a salary. Dual studies are usually offered at Bachelor degree level. (2.) The berufsbildende höhere Schule (BHS), which takes one year longer than the general academic schools to complete, offers a five-year course that is open to everyone who has successfully completed the eighth school grade. The BHS leads to a double qualification, namely an academic baccalaureate and a VET diploma. The academic baccalaureate provides access to HE, while the VET diploma grants the right to exercise higher-level occupations. After three years of relevant professional experience, graduates from the BHS of engineering, arts and crafts and the colleges of agriculture and forestry can apply for the title “Engineer” (Standesbezeichnung Ingenieur). (3.) The Swiss universities of applied sciences were deliberately designed for vocationally trained people and are legally obliged to be practice oriented. Crucially, their governance entails elements of traditional processes in VET. Swiss universities of applied sciences are directly linked to dual apprenticeship training via the vocational baccalaureate. The Swiss vocational baccalaureate, which is regarded as the ideal path (“Königsweg”) into a Swiss university of applied sciences, builds a bridge between dual apprenticeship training and universities of applied sciences. In sum, the Swiss hybrid organizational configuration of university of applied sciences, dual apprenticeship and vocational baccalaureate combines learning processes from both VET and HE and links upper-secondary VET with post-secondary HE (see Graf 2013 for details).


Indeed, I found that these hybrid organizational forms – which signify a puzzling phenomenon considering conventional theories on skill formation in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland – represent a form of institutional permeability. However, they also signify a new premium sector, for example in terms of social prestige and labor market prospects. Furthermore, these hybrids are quite unique in international comparison. This is mainly because they build on a level of parity of esteem between VET and HE that cannot be found in more school-based VET systems like in France or VET systems that are more oriented towards “learning-on-the-job” like in the UK or the US. As the above-mentioned hybrid organizational forms are located at the nexus of the traditional organizational fields of VET and HE, their development reflects – and can provide a novel perspective on – institutional dynamics in both of these fields.


Baethge, M. (2006) Das deutsche Bildungs-Schisma: Welche Probleme ein vorindustrielles Bildungssystem in einer nachindustriellen Gesellschaft hat. SOFI-Mitteilungen No. 34, 13-27.

Busemeyer, M. R. & Trampusch, C. (Eds.) (2012) The Political Economy of Collective Skill Formation, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Graf, L. (2013) The Hybridization of Vocational Training and Higher Education in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Opladen, Budrich UniPress. Open Access:

Greinert, W.-D. (2005) Mass Vocational Education and Training in Europe. CEDEFOP Panorama Series, 118.

Powell, J. J. W., Bernhard, N. & Graf, L. (2012) The Emerging European Model in Skill Formation: Comparing Higher Education and Vocational Training in the Bologna and Copenhagen Processes. Sociology of Education, 85(3): 240-258.


Dr. Lukas Graf works at the Institute of Education and Society (University of Luxembourg). Previously Lukas was a research fellow at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center where he studied the changing relationship between vocational training and higher education in international comparison.

This post was initially published on Higher Education Development Association HEDDA blog and has also appeared on Europe of Knowledge blog.

[i] The post draws on a recent book: Graf, L. (2013) The Hybridization of Vocational Training and Higher Education in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Opladen/Berlin/Toronto, Budrich UniPress.

Horizon 2020: Science with a Con-science


Diana Jane Beech

A high-level round table of important players in the European Research Area took place earlier this month to discuss the ethics and values that should lie at the heart of the forthcoming Horizon 2020 programme. At stake is the future of European research.

The European Research Area, or ERA, is bracing itself for a major change on the ‘horizon’. On 1 January 2014, the way the European Union (EU) selects and supports science projects will be superseded by the ‘Horizon 2020’ framework programme.

Equipped with a long-range budget of over €70 billion, Horizon 2020 can already lay claim to being Europe’s largest research programme.

With ‘Excellent Science’ clearly earmarked as one of its three priority areas, Horizon 2020 specifically seeks to raise the level of excellence in Europe’s science base and to foster a steady stream of world-class research, primarily to create new jobs and growth in Europe, and to secure the EU’s long-term competitiveness.

Over the course of the next seven years, then, hundreds of thousands of researchers and entrepreneurs in the EU – together with their partners across the globe – will receive funding to carry out frontier research of the highest quality in both academia and industry.

The intention is to open up new and promising fields of innovation, while working to overcome many of the world’s ‘grand challenges’ such as pandemics, climate change, security threats, and food and energy shortages.

Values and ethics

The strategic importance of science to the EU’s political agenda is clear.

Yet, while European officials and stakeholders in the research area are busily counting down to the launch of Horizon 2020, has anybody spared sufficient thought for what the role and place of values and ethics will be in the EU’s new research programme?

Until now, the focus of policy discussions has been firmly fixed on the potential of the new framework programme to break down barriers to create a genuine single European market for knowledge. Little thought has been given to defining and maintaining the ethical boundaries of European research that are so vital to its future flourishing and success.

A select group of leaders in Europe’s research and innovation community are, however, beginning to change all this and put attention back on the ‘big’ questions inherent to European science.

As recently as 5 November, some 30 ‘big names’ in the ERA got together in a high-level roundtable – the first of its kind dedicated to discussing the most pressing questions of values and ethics in the construction of ERA policy.

Forming part of a wider research project run by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, in the UK, the workshop was generously hosted by the Norwegian Mission to the EU under the auspices of Science Business.

The purpose of the day was to bring together leading figures from academia and industry, with members of the European parliament and scientific advisors, to reflect on the core values that are needed to drive European innovation in the ‘right’ direction for the future – and, ultimately, to draft an ethical charter for European research.

ERA’s moral purpose

Acknowledging the fact that Europe’s larger pot of public funding for research brings with it an increased number of ethical quandaries, participants were asked to think seriously about what sort of projects the EU should be funding, under what terms, and for whose benefits. At issue in the debate were the broader values of European science, and not merely its economic or social value.

As such, discussions brought to the fore some of the biggest questions surrounding the nature of Europe’s growing ‘knowledge economy’, as participants grappled to define the moral purpose of the ERA: Where is it going? Where should it be going? And what is needed to keep it on the ‘right’ track for the future?

Specific questions were asked about Horizon 2020 funds. In particular, participants debated whether the money should be used to support excellent research wherever it may be in the EU, or whether it should be distributed among the EU-28 and its respective research communities according to shared principles of fairness and equality.

Questions were also raised about the wider purpose of the money – specifically whether it should be used to promote research that generated ‘pure’ knowledge, or to support only those projects that clearly demonstrated European ‘added value’ such as the creation of new jobs, products and services.

Dichotomies of modern-day research dominated discussions, and participants debated at length the issues raised by private gain versus public good, trust versus accountability, and freedom versus solidarity.

Central to all of these issue clusters were questions of responsibility. For example, what responsibility, if any, do ERA policy-makers have to ensure that Europe’s research outputs are used for the good of the wider society?

To what extent do researchers receiving EU funds, and their institutions, share this responsibility? And how do we ensure a basic level of scientific integrity, particularly in the light of Horizon 2020’s emphasis on collaborations across borders, disciplines and sectors?

The detailed results of the round table are due to be published in an official report by Science Business at the end of this month. The results will form the basis of a new charter for European research that seeks to ensure the aims of Europe’s new framework programme remain as holistic as its intended approach.

The future and success of European science policy is about much more than science itself. It stems from a rich post-war history of scientific diplomacy continually bringing people together for purposes of peace and prosperity and the common good.

To move effectively into the future, then, Horizon 2020 needs to embrace this value-driven approach, not simply developing Europe’s science, but developing Europe’s con-science as well.

* Dr Diana Jane Beech is a research associate at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, UK, where she is currently working on a project exploring the role and relevance of values in the European Research Area, or ERA. She is also an active member of the ‘Voice of the Researchers’ multipliers group and the communications coordinator of a collaborative research network dedicated to the study of the ERA.

This article was originally published in the University World News, Issue No:297. It also appeared on the Ideas on Europe blog.

Construction of the European Area of Skills and Qualifications: Challenges and Opportunities

Marta Ponikowska

Today mobility across national borders is seen as increasingly important for competitive labor market, excellent research and higher education. Free movement of people is one of the four freedoms constituting the EU Single Market. Facilitating mobility of researchers is among the core aims of the European Research Area, while the ERASMUS programme supports student mobility.

However, international mobility requires specific mechanisms and instruments that would allow people to properly set up in their new homelands – find places to study and work. That is why the key issue related to the development of the European mobility is the ability to compare and recognize qualifications for the needs of lifelong learning and labor market. It should be stressed that the transparency of qualifications systems and recognition of qualifications is very important in the context of mobility not only within the EU but also around the world.

For some years we can observe various instruments introduced by the EU, supporting the process of building the European Area of Skills and Qualifications. The European Area of Skills and Qualifications can be understood as a citizen and business friendly EU area where the skills and qualifications are easily compared and recognised. The aim of building this area is directly connected with enhancing personal development of learners, and thus the development and mobility of the European society, as well as strengthening the EU Single Market. The EU has developed a number of instruments designed to facilitate the mobility of Europeans (some of them are: the Professional Qualifications Directive (Directive 2005/36/EC), the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), Europass, European credit transfer systems (ECTS and ECVET), the multilingual classification of European Skills/Competences, Qualifications and Occupations (ESCO)).

It is not easy to assess how coherent the EU institutions have been when recommending all the lifelong learning and qualification policy instruments to the Member States and to what extent those instruments have facilitated the European mobility and contributed to the concept of building the European Area of Skills and Qualifications. Calendini and Storai (2002)[i] indicate that the difficulties in the mutual recognition of qualifications by the Member States do not stem from the technical or methodological difficulties, but are associated with differences between the European societies and the differences between various national approaches. They describe concept of the European market for qualifications as problematic one and unlikely to become a reality, because of the weaknesses of the plans for harmonization of national education sectors. Moreover, Calendini and Storai argue that the construction of a coherent system of qualifications is complicated, because of many organizations with conflicting interests and different classifications. The only available tool of action in the opinion of the authors is a consensus on a level of a common European definition of qualifications.

In the light of the ongoing reforms of the European qualifications systems and the European strategies for education and skills, the question on the EU ability to build an internal European Area of Skills and Qualifications remains unanswered. It is worth asking the question about the compatibility of the EU instruments impact on the construction of a European Area of Skills and Qualifications. The other question mark concerns the possibility to build the European area of skills and qualifications, taking into account the differences between the education systems, methods of training and quality assurance systems.

Economic changes in Europe and the needs of the labour market will certainly play a significant role when looking for the answers. For the time being I echo Calendini and Storai opinion that solutions concerning the skills and qualifications in various countries will more or less vary. Close cooperation with the social partners, trade unions, education and business sector actors need to be conducted both on the level of the EU and Member States. The well-functioning common area of skills and qualifications cannot be achieved by implementation of the EU directive or regulation; to be successful it needs cooperation among stakeholders.

Marta Ponikowska is an analyst at the Educational Research Institute, Warsaw, Poland. Her research focusses on Law and Education.

[i] J.B. Calendini and C. Storai, ‘Vocational qualifications and the European labour market: the challenges and the prospects’, The Economics of Harmonizing European Law, 2002

This post was initially published on Europe of Knowledge blog.

CFP ‘Governance of the Europe of Knowledge’ workshop (10-11 April 2014)

Governance of the Europe of Knowledge

10-11 April 2014
Robinson College, Cambridge

Workshop aim: The year 2014 is significant for the Europe of Knowledge, marking the long-anticipated delivery and renewal of Europe’s ambition to become the global knowledge leader. Indeed, it is the deadline set for completing the European Research Area (ERA), as well as the official start of Horizon 2020, the main European Union (EU) funding instrument for pure and applied research. Against this backdrop, this workshop invites papers to go beyond the ‘crisis mode’ that has occupied EU studies in recent years and to critically reflect on the evolution of European knowledge cooperation and governance. Specifically, we are interested in theoretical, empirical and comparative contributions that investigate the role of the ‘four I’s’ – ideas, interests, instruments and institutions – in the construction of the Europe of Knowledge. By ‘role’, we refer to the effects that an idea, an actor (individual or organisational), a policy instrument and an institution have on the ‘knowledge area building’ exercise. Our focus on ‘roles’ is to enable a multidisciplinary discussion on whether these factors share defining characteristics across the different knowledge policy domains (i.e. research and higher education). From a research design perspective, this entails conceptualising the ‘four I’s’ as either independent or intervening variables.

Potential papers could explore a variety of themes. For instance, questions may include but are not restricted to: Do ideas and concepts such as the ‘fifth freedom’ impact policy cooperation in the same way in the research domain as in the higher education sector? Or do they reveal different properties (e.g. normative vs. strategic)? If so, to what extent does this difference account for the development we currently observe? Another avenue of investigation is to identify the actor constellation and institutional arrangements shaping and emerging due to the overlap between the ERA and the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) (e.g. doctoral education). Can we see a dominant set of actors moving between the ERA and the EHEA? If so, are EU knowledge policies more coherent as a result of these actors’ stable interests? Or, conversely, are policies in the knowledge domains radically different because these core actors’ interests change when moving from sector to sector? To what extent does the implementation of adopted policy instruments for the ERA and EHEA contribute to destabilising or strengthening the Europe of Knowledge? More broadly, possible papers could also address whether the European experience is unique or part of a wider global phenomenon known as ‘higher education regionalism’?

Workshop organisers: Dr Diana Beech (Cambridge), Dr Meng-Hsuan Chou (NTU), Dr Julie Smith (Cambridge)

Workshop call for paper: We will cover accommodation for selected participants for the duration of the workshop; refreshments and meals will be provided. If you are interested, please send the following to Meng-Hsuan Chou (hsuan.chou [at] and Julie Smith (jes42 [at] before the 9th of December 2013, 18.00 GMT:

(1) Paper title
(2) Extended abstract (700 words)
(3) Thematic focus of the paper (ideas, interests, institutions or instruments)
(4) Your name, email and contact details
(5) Current institutional affiliation and position

Important dates:

9 December 2013 (18.00 GMT): extended abstract due
15 December 2013: acceptance notification
20 December 2013: workshop confirmation from accepted contributors
14 March 2014: workshop programme available
28 March 2014: full papers due
10-11 April 2014: workshop