En + NL+ CZ
progression to higher education: England, the Netherlands and the Czech
Alan Brown, Trudy Moerkamp, Eva Voncken & Petr Vicenik
paper - May 1999
One of the thematic studies of the INTEQUAL project involved an investigation of how to facilitate progression from school-based vocational pathways in England and the Netherlands. This investigation drew mainly upon secondary analysis of studies of issues around the progression to higher education of students from senior vocational education (mbo) in the Netherlands and Advanced General National Vocational Qualifi-cations (GNVQ) programmes in England. The starting point of this analysis was the widespread perception that students from vocational pathways may have particular problems with aspects of the transition to higher education. To this comparison the experience of Czech students applying to higher education after completing their Maturita from technical or vocational schools has been added from the DUOQUAL project.
In the Netherlands, about half the age cohort take mbo and these programmes have traditionally been highly regarded in the labour market. Additionally, however, increasing numbers (about 30%) of mbo graduates have entered hbo (higher vocational education), and they now comprise about 40% of all entrants to hbo. Mbo graduates generally perform at about the same level as graduates from havo (senior general secondary education) in the first two years of hbo, although both groups have relatively high drop-out rates. However, while unsuccessful havo students tend to switch to another area within hbo, mbo students are more likely to leave higher education altogether.
One important question therefore is can action be taken to reduce the attrition rate of mbo graduates in hbo. Traditionally, as mbo has been primarily orientated towards qualifying students for the labour market, the attainment targets and curricular design of mbo have reflected this priority. However, more recently, attempts have been made to design attainment targets appropriate for further study in higher education and to produce modules specifically geared to facilitating transfer of students to vocational higher education.
Mbo and hbo teachers are in broad agreement on the strengths and weaknesses of mbo students who continue their studies in hbo. The former mbo students’ strengths are their motivation, occupational skills and knowledge of the professional domain. Their weak-nesses relate to insufficient development of their underpinning theoretical knowledge, language skills, study skills and meta-cognitive skills. Some of these problems may be addressed in future, however, by a recent shift of emphasis in mbo courses towards more self-reliant learning and problem-based learning. Mbo graduates themselves also have ideas about how the mbo curriculum could be further strengthened, and these include giving greater attention to information technology, organisational skills and writing reports.
One striking feature of the discussions about mbo:hbo progression is that the focus has been almost exclusively upon how to ‘strengthen’ mbo, rather than giving any considera-tion to ways that hbo might build upon the strengths of mbo graduates. For example, hbo itself is still very ‘academic’, and giving hbo a more genuinely vocational emphasis might be another way of bridging the mbo:hbo transition, rather than always seeking to make mbo more academic.
In England, Advanced GNVQ programmes have been more specifically focused upon facilitating entry to higher education. Indeed preparation for the labour market is downplayed to such an extent that GNVQ could be viewed as having a pre-vocational rather than an occupational emphasis. Progression prospects for entry into higher education are generally good for those students who successfully complete Advanced GNVQ, although large numbers of students fail to complete their programmes within two years.
GNVQ was seen by both students and staff as having strengths and weaknesses as a preparation for higher education. Both groups pointed to the value of independent learning, communication and information technology skills of former GNVQ students. On the other hand, they shared concerns about students’ lack of experience of writing essays and taking examinations necessary for many HE programmes, and the insuffi-cient depth of underpinning knowledge required for particular HE courses, especially if they had a high scientific or mathematical content.
There are two types of action, however, which can be taken to help smooth GNVQ:HE transitions. On the one hand, given the diversity of type of HE programmes in England, GNVQ students could be encouraged to apply to HE programmes where there is a high degree of ‘fit’ between the existing curricula. On the other hand, there have been explicit attempts to use compacts, or other link arrangements to try to ensure curricular progres-sion between GNVQ:HE curricula. Such compacts seek to play down the ‘structural break’ between different types of provision.
In both countries it is now possible for students to take enriched or enhanced mbo or GNVQ programmes that can increase their chances of being successful in HE. More generally, each country could also learn from the other. The Netherlands could pick up ideas from GNVQ about how to develop independent learning and communication skills prior to entry to HE, while England could learn from mbo about the value of developing a substantive knowledge base so as to underpin entry into either the labour market or HE. Indeed the challenge for the future for both mbo and GNVQ is in finding ways to develop a substantive knowledge base, and a range of core skills/key qualifications linked to the ability to work as a member of team, flexibility and a continuing commitment to learning.
The Czech Republic
The most striking feature of the Czech system is the high percentage of university entrants who come from pathways with a dual orientation towards the labour market and higher education. In 1996 and 1997 45% of enrolled students, whose school background could be identified, came from vocational or technical schools. Students from general education are still very much more likely to go into higher education, as nearly all Maturita graduates sooner or later go to university. However, this perhaps reflects that this is a pathway with a single goal.
By contrast, Maturita graduates from technical and vocational schools have a wider range of alternatives, including employment. As in other countries, there has been a marked increase in the number of post-compulsory students engaged in full-time study: from 44% to 63% between 1989-1997. However, what is striking, and comparatively unusual, is that the increase is much the strongest in the secondary technical schools: in 1989, 24% of the age cohort attended secondary technical schools, 15% gymnasia and 6% vocational schools, and by 1997 these figures were 41%, 18% and 4% respectively. Students particularly appreciate the access to more highly skilled employment that graduation from secondary technical schools typically brings. In contrast, the percentage of the age cohort entering three year vocational training has declined from 55% to 35% from 1989-1997.
Senior technical schools (STS) are therefore delivering access to highly skilled employment, or for those who prefer to continue to study access to higher education. Gymnasium graduates are strongly represented in the fields of law, medicine and social science, and the STS graduates who apply in these areas are much less likely to be successful. On the other hand, STS graduates prevail in the technical areas of higher education. Much smaller numbers of students from senior vocational schools and extension programmes also manage to enter higher education.
Overall then, the Czech system does appear to have a popular high status technical vocational pathway that delivers powerful progression opportunities in both the labour market and higher education. Over 40% of the age cohort currently opt for this pathway, more than double the number of those following the academic route. It is perhaps no coincidence and of interest to other countries that resources and expenditure per pupil are higher on technical rather than academic education.
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Latest update: 23/08/1999
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