The AMK (polytechnic) reform in Finland
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Issue The AMK (polytechnic) reform was launched in Finland in 1991. The main objectives of the AMK reform were 
a) to solve operational problems present at all levels of the educational system (e.g. a surplus of matriculated academic upper secondary school students and slow and multiple education), 
b)  to raise the standard and quality of vocational education to a level corresponding to the requirements of the industry and working life and 
c) to enhance the status of vocational education. (K.K. 25/08/99) 
The reform has to be seen as a reaction to new labor market developments which took place in many European and non-European countries. In the consequence many national educational systems in Europe tend towards a stronger labor market and work orientation (e.g. also in Austria, Denmark). 
    It is questionable if the reform really affects all levels of the educational system as stated in issue a). (J.M. 03/01/00)
Measure The AMK institutions have been established gradually, after an experimentation period and more or less by following the models of German Fachhochschulen or Dutsch HBOs. AMK institutions are being formed by upgrading the former vocational institutes and by merging them to form new, unified institutions. At this moment there are 24 permanent AMK institutions in Finland and 7 temporary in an experimental phase. The new system of non-university sector will be fully established by the year 2000 and according to the latest Government plan for the development of education, 70 % of the youth age group will be given an access to higher education. 
    Special emphasis in AMK institutions has been placed on developing new teaching forms and methods, practical training and co-operation with industries, international co-operation and co-operation between different institutions, which gives an opportunity to design flexible and interdisciplinary training programs and curriculum. 
    The degrees awarded by AMK institutions are vocationally oriented higher education degrees. The largest fields of study are technology and transport; administration and commerce and social and health care. (K.K. 25/08/99)
The new system has been established rather fast (within one decade). 
    The establishment of AMK institutions was accompanied by the introduction of new teaching forms and elements of co-operations between educational institutions and industries which might lead to a new quality of learning and education. It shows also that the reform is not merely operational oriented, but also oriented towards the quality of education. (J.M. 03/01/00)
Impact An important way to evaluate the success of the AMK institutions in achieving the above mentioned educational objectives is an examination of how their graduates gain entry to working life and what kind of jobs they find there.
    The Institute for Educational Research carried out the research project about the transition to work process of the AMK-graduates as compared to their counterparts among the university graduates. The data was collected by a questionnaire sent at the end of the year 1997 to all  Finnish AMK and university graduates in business studies  of the academic year 1996/1997.
    The findings reveal that the AMK business studies graduates have been reasonably successful in gaining entry to working life even if, considered as a group, they do not yet fully compete with university economics and business studies graduates. There are differences between the groups in employment rates, in the quality of employment found and in the level of the incomes earned. 
    The regional factors, that is the economic and labour market situation of the given area, explain the employment most. The majority of university graduates acquire their degree in Southern Finland, where also the labour market conditions are less problematic than elsewhere in Finland. By contrast, the AMK institutions are distributed more evenly over the country with the result that their graduates begin their search for a job under more varied and often less favourable conditions. Other major contributors to the employment are the age of the graduate, specialization field (information technology) and at last the degree. 
    The major contributors to high incomes turn out to be work tasks (managerial positions) together with the age, degree (university graduates) and sex (male) of the graduate. Statistically significant effects are also shown by the region (Southern Finland), size of employer enterprise and specialization field (information technology). 
    As these results show, one-dimensional ranking and comparison of schools and degrees doesn't give a truthful picture of the situation. In general, a more analytical and realistic approach in evaluating the education is needed.   (K.K. 25/08/99) 
An evaluation of the reform (measuring the achievement of the overall objectives) can not be done only on the education-work- transition performance. The status of the AMK institutions as a whole has to be taken into account e.g. in the comparison to the traditional universities. Are their any indications of a downgrading process for the general role of higher education? 
    The drift between general education and vocational education might shift to a another drift between labor market acceptable education and non-labor market acceptable education, which makes the problem not easier. 
    In a self-critical manner the author admits that the evaluation up to now is not satisfying, but it is not clear which evaluation methods are needed and if it is planned to use new approaches. (J.M. 03/01/00)
Reference More detailed research results dealing with the placement of the AMK graduates in the field of administration and commerce as compared to that of university graduates and with the graduates' anticipations (on the basis of their education)  of their future career can be found in the research report prepared by Korhonen, Mäkinen & Valkonen 1999a. The report is in Finnish, but it has an English abstract. Information about the experiments in youth education and polytechnics experiments can also be found in Numminen & al. 1999a. (K.K. 30/09/99) An analysis of vocational guidance in Finnish higher education, including polytechnics, has been contributed to a European project by Lairio 1999b. (S.M. 29/10/99) A monograph by Markowitsch, J. (2000a) on standards and practical relevance of higher education with regard to the Fachhochschule in Austriais forthcoming. (J.M. 03/01/00 - S.M. ed.)
Author Kristiina Korhonen Jörg Markowitsch

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