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European Strategies for Parity of Esteem Between Academic and Vocational Education:
The Strategy of Mutual Enrichment

Matti Vesa Volanen

Institute for Educational Research
University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Paper Presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lahti, Finland
22 - 25 September 1999

European Strategies for the Parity of Esteem

The Leonardo -project on strategies for post-16 education in Europe identified four strategies in the eight upper secondary education systems for promoting parity of esteem between vocational and general education. These were (1) vocational enhancement, (2) mutual enrichment, (3) linkages and (4) unification (Lasonen & Young, 1998):

Vocational Enhancement. The strategy of vocational enhancement emphasizes the distinctive nature of vocational education on the basis of its characteristic content and links between employers and the providers of vocational education. Esteem for vocational education is linked with the high standard of the content and pedagogy offered in vocational education and training. The strategy is most closely associated with the systems in Germany and Austria. The reforms in these countries are based on a belief that vocational training can provide a path both to higher education qualifications and to employment. The conclusions drawn from the German strategy are based on a single local experimental reform, while the Austrian reforms are nationwide. In the German experiment an enhancement strategy is applied to the renewal of the pedagogy of vocational education by means of a "bottom-up" approach. In Austria, by contrast, the strategy involves a top-down reform of structures and certification.

Mutual Enrichment. In the Finnish and Norwegian reforms, vocational education institutions, enterprises and academic upper secondary schools cooperate with the aim of giving students a broader range of choices and offering them stimulating learning methods and environments. The strategy brings together the different types of schools by encouraging cooperation while simultaneously preserving their distinctive character. In Norway the strategy is being applied on a national level, while in Finland it is pursued in 16 localities. In Norway the aim has been to create a comprehensive upper secondary school and ensuring vocational students a smooth transition from school to work on the system level. Teacher education has been reformed by combining the training of vocational and general subject teachers. Curriculum reform has led to a restructuring of study programmes and improved opportunities for vocational students through one years of on-the-job training. In Finland the strategy involves increasing student choice beyond the boundaries separating vocational and general upper secondary schools in the localities. The essential basis of the reform is to facilitate cooperation between vocational and general upper secondary schools. The practical implementation of the strategy depends on collaboration between schools and teachers and on attracting the interest of students and gaining the support of their parents.

Linkages. Countries representing the linkages strategy have made vocational and general education more formally equal by linking both to a common qualification structure. English and French educational systems which have traditionally fostered elitism by emphasising only academic studies for the few are now attempting to make vocational education more attractive and to raise its status in relation to general education. In France the emphasis of the Baccalaureat professionnel is on improved employment prospects. In England, again, the main focus has been on enabling students on the new vocational programmes (GNVQs) to have access to university on similar terms that are available to A levels students.

Unification. Under the unification strategy vocational and general education are merged into one another to create a single post-16 education system. It is believed that requiring all students to study certain common general subjects will provide them with equal opportunities to engage in further studies, a factor that determines the attractiveness of different qualifications. Sweden and Scotland represent unified systems where the aim is to abolish the distinction between vocational and general learning. However, unification strategies are not necessarily identical. The comparison demonstrates one possible dimension of their variation, for while Sweden emphasizes uniformity of treatment and outcomes for all students, in Scotland the stress is, instead, on providing choice among a flexible range of opportunities." (Lasonen, Young, 1998)

This analysis of the Post-16 Strategies project is policy- and structure- orientated. The approach adopted by the project excluded a discussion of the relationship between the four strategies and the content of vocational education, the curriculum. Figure of the strategies did not achieve sufficient definition. The other Leonardo project, INTECQUAL, paid more attention to the idea of integrated learning as a problem of the curriculum, but did not answer to structural or policy questions. My basic hypothesis is that if we analyse together all these three elements - structure, policy and curriculum - we can open up a new position to understand the relationship between vocational and academic tradition in such a way that they can be integrated enriching each other.

Bildung Through Vocational Education: The Strategy of Mutual Enrichment

The differentiation between academic and vocational education is a very essential aspect of the European tradition and it is therefore impossible to overcome it through one type of education getting the upper hand, through the supremacy of the one or the other, irrespective of whether it would entail the scientifization of vocational education or the vocationalization of academic education. The mission is instead to create a new kind of interdependency between the two traditions so that we are able to generate a process of mutual enrichment.

The very fundamental roots of this differentiation between academic and vocational education go back to classical Antiquity, but the Reformation, the birth of labour markets, the role of the state in the process of the formation of (civil)society have all contributed to determining how important and central the distinction between vocational and academic education has been as an influence on the structure of European educational systems.

The Myth of the Academe

The well-known slogan "Bildung durch Wissenschaft", Bildung through science and scholarship, described an effort to escape the constraints of the Church and expressed a belief in individuals’ own ability to cultivate their minds. This slogan was based on individualism, perhaps even on the idea of aesthetic individualism: man must put himself in God’s place. Science became a new secular church with its accompanying institutions.

As we know, presenting Plato’s suburban school at " the olive grove of Academe" as the origin of universities is a myth manufactured by the university scholars.1 The University of Bologna - to take an example - was a student community (universitas scholarium) for legal studies in the middle of the 12th century. Its students, coming from all over Europe, were " aliens but highly desirable ones as they brought with them a promise of fame for the city and prospects of income increase for its citizens (house rent)"2. The student community was eager to gain political and economic privileges. According to Roman civil law, a community is a corporate personality with a set of rights and obligations, but as legally aliens the students were only artificially citizens of the city. In such a position, aspiring to privileges that were denied the apprentices of crafts and trades of the city, really required a " masterpiece of juridical sophistication". ... " The ancient imagery of a knowledge hierarchy with the artes liberales on its higher levels and the artes serviles on the bottom line was reanimated by the 13th century jurists of Bologna for practical and political reasons."3

Universitas’ was, then, at the very beginning a community of students while ‘Studium’ was a name for places where scholars’ corporations resided. ‘Studium generale’ meant that the content of their studies went beyond narrow local concerns. The division between academic and vocational studies was a question of privileges and power. The result of all this was that academic Bildung was easily seen as absolute, truthful and universal, above any particular interests. This is also an excellent rationale for making academic Bildung an aspect of the glory of national truth, as was done in many countries later on.

Vocational education, by contrast, was relative, instrumental, specific and tied up with particular interests, because it was linked with working life and because its basic nature was not national but international. When later on the differentiation between art/fine art (Kunst/Schöne Kunst) was established to give art and art education the social prestige of a science, artes serviles lost also the idea of aesthetics. The theory of knowledge and the theory of beauty are for social reasons detached from the theory of techne. After these operations we can go on to talk about the training in/formation of the skills of the labourer. Academic Bildung, then, expresses not a universal but a particular social interest - a call for power.


Another call has also been heard in the history of education - the call for a profession. Although even here the starting point has often been the individual’s preparation for eternal life, this call has also been associated with a bond with other people: it is possible to make oneself worthy through other people by making oneself indispensable in the eyes of others. Thus, here Bildung means becoming worthy in the estimation of other people, not only in one’s own estimation. Vocation has become a profession.

This road to Bildung differs in its intention from the road leading to academic Bildung. Traditionally academic Bildung seeks to escape from the world and distance itself from it, so that the world can thus be seen more clearly, that is, more truly. Ultimately the aim is to write a great illuminating book about the world, to recreate the world - and to rise above the hurly-burly of one's own restless era.

A profession, too, is always linked to an aspiration: the desire to make things and even people to take on a new form. A profession is not related to the idea of escaping the world; rather, a profession requires going out into the world: the essence of the world can be learned only by working on and with it. A profession makes it possible to create one's own durable internal world, which also involves other people, as a source of Bildung - that is, freedom - not as barrier to it.

Vocational Bildung as Modern Bildung

What was then the basis of the differentiation of artes liberales and artes serviles? It goes as follows: When you are forming, through a working process (poiesis) the object of your work, you cannot reform yourself, and when you are forming yourself through activity (praxis) you are not forming a separate object residing outside you but yourself as a person.

In fact, it was one of the starting points of the modern times to say that you can - in principle and in a philosophical sense - educate yourself through work. It means that in principle and in a very fundamental sense vocational Bildung is modern Bildung. In the first two decades of the century the realization of this fact confused the academic tradition.

The practical solutions to the problem were less promising: In the process of forming the modern national state, the idea of praxis, the policy of the national state, was the primary consideration. Science and scholarship, and, later on, art, the fine art, had to give their support to the national state. And that was a question of money. In return they won the national glory. All this meant that the third element, work, poiesis, lost the idea of knowledge and beauty, a possibility to generate through work general cognitive or aesthetic processes, or new social meanings; these task were now the preserve of science and scholarship and fine art. " The Scientific management" of work expresses the standpoint of science very clearly. Frederic Taylor writes in his book "Shop management":

"My system is in aimed at establishing a clear cut and novel division of mental and manual labour throughout the workshops. It is based upon the precise time and motion study of each workman’s job in isolation and relegates the entire mental parts of the tasks in hand to the managerial staff." (Frederic Taylor, 1911)

As regards art, its relation to work was much more complicated: We have a very problematic social classification – and thus a social skirmish - of craft, art-craft, craft design, design, art design, art industry, art, fine art. During the first decades of this century the fine art gained what was clearly a new position: Art no longer merely reflects beauty of nature but is, instead, searching and forming new meanings.

The result of the whole process was clear: we can easily make a division between the academic and the vocational tradition on this basis: the academic represents the tradition of knowledge and truth, fine art the production of social meanings and experience of beauty in the context of national citizenship. Work and labour, on the other hand, are special skills without their own aims or basis; they are for labour and the labourer. Academic education is – then – vocational education for those, who become leaders and vocational education general education for those, who will be led, as the classical saying aptly expresses the matter.

At the structural level, the main division within the educational system is, as we know, that between academic and vocational education. We know also, that since the Second World War, the comprehensive education and the general upper secondary school are formally providers of liberal education, i.e. their curriculums are based mainly on science and the humanities. As late as the year 1992 the general upper secondary school was defined in Finland as an institution giving students " the national core Bildung", without any reference being made to vocational Bildung or to students in vocational education.

Are these distinctions, made in the first modern or early industrial society still powerful enough? What happens if we take seriously the idea of a learning society?4, that is, the explosive development of knowledge-intensive industries and media and the changing place, time and function of learning?

We can see three fundamental bases for learning: science and scholarship, praxis and work5. In traditional thinking, theoria, representing science and scholarship aims to form the ability to see the world as it is, while the praxis involves a struggles for the ability to make the world a better place trough activity, poiesis the production of beautiful artifacts. The first modern solution formed an alliance between science and art, took poiesis from them and defunctionalising it by subjecting it to the outside control of science and by excluding the questions of beauty from the working process.

A new solution – late-, post- or second modern, as you wish - is needed because unlike in the early industrial society between a worker and the object of his or her work there is no longer a tool or a machine but productive machinery as a whole. The Machinery has learned to use language and language has learned to use machinery, and still more: the language itself is a part of the machinery of production. To be more exact: What we have here is not only a machinery, a technical advance or a productive body, that is a biological organ, but a – if one may say so –, a language-like texture6 surrounding us.

As a result of this textualisation of our everyday life, the economic capital has become ever more dependent on human, social and nature-based capital, that is, on human qualifications, social confidence and natural resources. The main focus of all the texture around us is an ability to read the value residing in living work that has already departed from the dead products of that work in such a way that we can, once again, relate living work to its products without any loss of economic, human, social or nature-based values. This is not only a question of life and death for any production unit or economic system but also a struggle for the social existent of any social class.

The problem is, that the dead products of living work are not in the literal sense a crystallization of living work, which is how we easily see them, but social representations, " hieroglyphs" of the work already completed. They express a social way of thinking (Gedankeding). It is – to put it very shortly – precisely vocational Bildung, that is used in reading and writing this social Gedankeding. Why?

AllgemeinBildung, the general cultivation of academic tradition, science and scholarship and fine art was based on separating theoria and praxis from poiesis, on productive leisure time to bee used for thinking deep or/and high thoughts, on principle of arcanum, that is, the idea that authentic reality is anchored not in sensible reality but in some substance behind it, in insensible reality. Besides beings throughout the early industrial modern usually seen as nationally oriented, allgemeinbildung of this kind, also formed in its best works a horizon around the problems of its own era by cross-illuminating everyday life and its problems.

The allgemein, general of vocational Bildung is based, in principle, on the educative feedback generated by the object (Gegenstand) when it I worked on. If you hit your axe on a stone, you learn very quickly not to do it a second time. When the means and the objects of work manifest themselves in a textual form, it is impossible to perceive this kind of feedback without a reflective, conceptual means to open the feedback. The worker must master the language of the machinery and of the object of the work. What is most important, they have to be able to relate themselves to the objects and products of their work, not only through the given vocational means and concepts, whatever they may be, but also through a social way of thinking (Gedankeding). This third language is the language of vocational Bildung. The general element of vocational Bildung is thus bound up with the materiality of social texture, that is, with a reflection of dead work. This Allgemein is, then, never merely symbols of or texts by a productive mind, but an unfolding of the hieroglyph of real work, already completed.

There is a fatal impotence in both types of Allgemeinbildung. They are both outside of the third element, praxis. The academic tradition provides the means to read and write a book about the world but only through its social position the power to change the world. The vocational tradition has the means of change but only inside the social way of thinking. It has not enough power for cross-illuminating the praxis of texturing the products of work already completed.

Together the two traditions might have something that neither has alone. If we reintroduce the questions of beauty, truth and good life, that is esthetic, science and scholarship, and politics into the poiesis, we have a possibility to cross-illuminating the social way of thinking through the most concrete and general social bounds, through the bonds of living work.


Brown, Alan & Manning, Sabine (Eds.) (1998). Qualifications for employment and higher education: a collaborative investigation across Europe. Hämeenlinna: University of Tampere (Ammattikasvatussarja; 18).

Dabrowski, A., 1990. The academic fields of knowledge, Science Studies, 2/1990, 3-21

Gruschka, A., 1988, From Humbolt’s idea of general education to " general education within the vocational medium", Education, 38, 7-28.

Heydorn H. J., 1980. Ungleichheit für alle, Zur Neufassung des Bildungsbegriffs Bildungstheoretische Schriften, Band 3, Syndikat: Franfurt am Main.

Lasonen, Johanna, Young, Michael (Eds.), 1998. Strategies for Achieveing Parity of Esteem in European Upper Secondary Education, pp. 161-168. European Comission, Leonardo da Vinci Programme: Surveys and Analysis: Post-16 Strategies Project. Jyväskylä: Institute for Educational Research.

Siegrist, H., 1990. Professionalization as a process: patterns, progression and discontinuity, pp. 177-202, In: Burrage, M., Torstendahl, R., (Eds.) Professions in Theory and History, London: SAGE publications

Numminen, Ulla; Söderman, Thérèse; Volanen, Matti Vesa, 1995. Finding new strategies for post-16 ecucation by networking vocational and academic/general education and working life to improve the parity of esteem for initial vocational training. An accepted project proposal to the Leonardo de Vinci program, Surveys and analysis, European Comission.

Taylor, F. W., 1911. Scientific management Shop management, The principles of scientific management, Westport (Conn.) Greenwood repr. 1972.

Turner, S. T., 1993. Citizenship and Social Theory, London: SAGE publications

Volanen, M. V. (1995). Mutual enrichment of academic and vocational in youth education, in Lasonen, J., Stenström, M-L. (eds.), Conpemporary issues of occupational education in Finland, Jyväskylä: Institute for Educational Research, Omicron Tau Theta - Upsilon Chapter, Ammattikoulutuksen tutkimusseura.

White Paper on Education and Training, 1995. Teaching and learning: Towards the learning society COM(95) 590 final, Brussels: Commission of the European Communities


1 See Dabrowski, 1990

2 Dabrowski, 1990

3 Dabrowski, 1990

4 The idea of "Learning society" was used by Torsten Husén as early as in the 1970s, but discussion in Europe is nowadays stimulated by the EU White Paper. See the Whiter Paper on Education and Training, 1995

5 Of course one can immediately raise the question of learning via the Media. In this context, however, I see Media as a medium, that is, as an element mediating between the three bases of main concern here and, I must admit, at the same time, as an element that fundamentally restructures place, time and style of learning.

6 The etymology of texture goes back to Latin and Greek: In Latin, textere is to weave, textura (texo+ura) is the art of weaving, texo means putting together or constructing a complex structure, textus a bound; in Greek Tecnh is the art of metalworking, while in old India taksán was a carpenter. Texture also refers to the (complex) structure of a surface.

This document was added to the Education-line database 24 September 1999