The proportion of students who choose a vocational programme in upper secondary school is decreasing in Sweden. The vocational content of VET programmes was strengthened in reform of upper secondary education in 2011. One unintended effect of the reform, according to estimates by the National Agency of Education, is reduced interest in vocational education due to difficulty studying courses leading to eligibility for higher education. The proportion of VET students has decreased in the last decade, from 35% of the age cohort in 2007 to 23% in 2016/17.
National upper secondary programmes comprise 2 500 points, equivalent of ECVET-points. For VET-learners, up to three more courses and 300 points in Swedish and English are needed to be eligible to apply for higher academic studies. These courses have been optional since 2011, but the proposal is to include this basic eligibility and increase teaching time in the vocational education programme structure. However, many students have other plans than further studies and see no need to study courses that give basic eligibility for higher education. As the requirements for a degree from a vocational programme and diploma will not be of interest to such students, the proposal is that those in vocational programmes should be entitled to opt-out of such courses and still be awarded an upper secondary education VET diploma.
Although it is mandatory for upper secondary schools to offer the possibility to study eligibility courses in the context of 2 500 upper secondary points today, the students often find that they must prioritise vocational courses that industry considers necessary to strengthen employability. It is also difficult for learners to combine optional courses based in school and work-based learning. Students have, in addition, the right to study eligibility courses as an extended programme, though scheduling and other practical circumstances often deter learners from these choices.
With its proposal to make basic eligibility courses mandatory in vocational programmes, the government’s intention is to provide learners with an incentive to study vocational programmes and yet be eligible to apply to higher education. The hope is that vocational education will be perceived as a more advantageous alternative for those students who wish to keep their options open, as well as providing better planning conditions for VET providers.
‘To access higher education there are general and, in some cases, specific entry requirements. In addition to obtaining a vocational diploma students must have passing grades in Swedish or Swedish as a second language, English and mathematics to obtain basic eligibility for higher education’
Skolverket, ReferNet Sweden (2016).Vocational education and training in Europe – Sweden. Cedefop ReferNet VET in Europe reports.