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Vocational Education and Training in the Knowledge Economy: Comparing Pathways of Change in Switzerland and Germany
Vocational education and training (VET) systems are challenged by the rise of the knowledge and service economy, related changes in production models and workplaces, and, more generally, the growing popularity of academic forms of education. Moreover, European educational policies call for a greater permeability between VET and higher education. This is especially challenging for countries in which VET and higher education traditionally display a relatively strong institutional separation. However, achieving structural reforms in VET systems is demanding. This applies in particular to collectively governed dual-apprenticeship training that has its base in the industrial and crafts sectors of the economy and builds on a long-standing tradition of decentralised cooperation of multiple public and private stakeholders. As a result, it tends to be path-dependent, which favours gradual over radical forms of change. In view of the rise of the knowledge and service economy and the growing popularity of academic forms of education, this keynote analyses policy responses in Switzerland and Germany. How do these systems react to the challenges related to the rise of the knowledge and service economy? The historical institutionalist analysis finds that in adjusting collective skill formation to the knowledge economy, distinct pathways of gradual change are evolving in otherwise relatively similar systems. The dominant pattern of change tends to be the reinterpretation of institutions (conversion) in Switzerland but the addition of new institutions on top of old ones (layering) in Germany, with different implications for the future viability of collective skill formation. The comparison also shows that Switzerland features a more consensual approach to reform. The analysis indicates that country size – both in terms of geography and population – is a key factor underlying the type of change observed, contributing to the discussion of general scope conditions for educational policy reform. The presentation concludes with a reflection on the broader relevance and practical implications of these findings.