The Swiss Vocational Education System and its Social Status

The Social Status of Swiss Vocational Education: Analyzing Determinants and Temporal Development

Background

The dual vocational course of education is by far the most widespread in Switzerland. Accordingly, the qualification profile of Swiss companies shows that the majority of employees have completed a vocational apprenticeship. Nevertheless, Swiss newspapers increasingly report about the low social status of vocational education as compared to higher education programs.


This is reflected by the increasing number of students aspiring higher education, on the one hand, and by the fact that companies lament difficulties in recruiting eligible students for their apprenticeship programs, on the other hand. However, there are no (reliable) studies about the social status of vocational education, more specifically about their relative positioning compared to other paths of education.

 

Research Design and Method

On the basis of a new parameter, the Research Division Education Systems at the KOF Swiss Economic Institute at the ETH Zurich examined the determinants and temporal development of the social status of the Swiss vocational education system. The parameter proceeds from the assumption that a high social status of vocational education will result in more high-performance students choosing vocational over university education – on the condition that other determinants remain unchanged. This will be reflected in the fact that the relative academic achievements (according to PISA) of aspiring apprentices converge to the achievements of students who are aspiring higher education.

Major Research Results

The analyses show that the social status of the Swiss vocational education did not change between 2000 and 2012. Considering the public debate, this result is surprising and hints at a positive impact of reform efforts and information campaigns that aimed at opposing an impaired status of the vocational education system.

Yet, the social status of vocational education differs from region to region. Adolescents from rural areas value it significantly higher than adolescents from urban areas. In German-speaking Switzerland, the social status of vocational education is the lowest as compared to the other language regions. This result is surprising and indicates that in German-speaking Switzerland, the relative achievements of aspiring apprentices, compared to those of students aspiring higher education, are lower than in French- and Italian-speaking Switzerland. In absolute terms, the achievements of aspiring apprentices are similar all over Switzerland, while the achievements of students aspiring higher education are significantly higher in German-speaking Switzerland than in the French- and Italian-speaking cantons.

Another factor determining the attitude towards vocational education is a person’s cultural background. Adolescents who were born in Switzerland rate vocational education higher than foreign-born adolescents. However, the attitude of immigrants gradually improves over time and finally converges with those Swiss-born. It can hence be assumed that the lack of knowledge about the Swiss education system and about the advantages of vocational education might be reasons for the initially diverging attitudes.

Publication:
The Social Status of Swiss Vocational Education,
ETH Zurich, April 2018

In April 2018, an information brochure presenting research results about the social status of Swiss vocational education The Social Status of Swiss Vocational Education and Training in Switzerland" was published by the KOF Swiss Economic Institute at the ETH Zurich. .

The brochure addresses vocational education experts and mainly focusses on the social status of vocational education and the related determining factors. Therefore, the authors Dr. Thomas Bolli, Ladina Rageth and Dr. Ursula Renold had previously developed a measurement concept.

The researchers analyzed data of around 63,000 ninth graders who were tested by the Programme for International Student Assessment PISA in the years of 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012. Performance was linked to the students’ aspired educational path after compulsory education: high school, a specialized middle school, dual or fulltime vocational training.

In June 2016, an interim report about the research project titled "Leistungsstarke Jugendliche stärken das Ansehen der Berufsbildung" by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs was published in the journal "Die Volkswirtschaft". Furthermore, the most important results are visualized in an Infografics.

Partner

The Hirschmann Foundation has partnered with the ETH Foundation Zurich. The project was conducted by the Research Division Education Systems at the KOF Swiss Economic Institute at the ETH Zurich.

The Hirschmann Foundation funded the research project from 2014 to 2021 with an amount of CHF 300,000.

Website: www.kof.ethz.ch/en/research.html