At the end of 2022, the Minister for Education, Dr Robbert Dijkgraaf, launched the Future Outlook 2040 programme. It aims to reconsider the goals and organisation of VET and higher (professional and academic) education in the Netherlands: ‘We need an integrated system that meets the demands of students, the labour market and the society of 2040’. To make fundamental choices in time, it is necessary to think carefully about the impact of current trends; trends such as internationalisation, migration and aging, climate transition, technological innovations (AI and digitalisation), and changes in the student population with an increasingly diverse background.
Is the structure of the education system suitable for today’s social challenges?
One of the core themes of the initiative is whether classical demarcations between practice-oriented and theoretical/academic school types have outlived themselves. It is even conceivable that these demarcations impede working on integrated solutions and responding adequately to social challenges – good enough reasons to question the structure of the current system. Will having separate school systems for VET, higher professional and academic education still be relevant in the future? Should school types like VET and university be ranked in a hierarchy, or rather stand side by side?
The Greenwise Campus initiative as an example
The idea to reconstruct VET and higher education (HE) was only recently launched. The first half of 2023 is dedicated to collecting ideas and discussing options. Concrete plans will be shaped in the autumn after consulting Parliament. But not all these ideas are new; since 2022 the Greenwise Campus initiative, founded by Groningen University, a VET school and NHL Stenden University of applied Sciences, together with local authorities, joined forces to make the local chemical industry more sustainable by activating new energy sources, solving staff shortages and developing new high-tech materials.
The Greenwise Campus focuses on the entire production chain ‘from lab to market, from knowledge to cash deck’. An integrated process starting with fundamental research at the university, followed by testing and experimenting by the University of Applied Sciences and the VET school. Subsequently start-ups and local industries try out the new technologies and use them to develop new products or applications for the market. This initiative is supported by education programmes open to all students. VET students can follow electives at the University of Applied Sciences, for instance. The initiative also offers opportunities for university students and students from other school types to cooperate in projects, supported by their teachers and industry.
However, the Greenwise Campus initiative does not break down the borders between VET and HE institutes; it respects the traditional hierarchic order. In that respect, the Future Outlook 2040 programme is indeed revolutionary in integrating VET and HE into one school type. Discussion about how this can be done in the Netherlands has started, and everyone is invited to contribute.