1           RATIONALE

In Western countries the emergence of tertiary vocational education[1] in the late 1960s was due to a number of converging factors. Below four main factors are presented.

1.1. Due to substantial changes in the make up of Western labour markets the economic sectors saw a rise in the demand for middle-level manpower.[2] There was a rapidly increasing call for “technicians and highly skilled professionals in middle management positions” as intermediary occupations between the fully fledged academically trained professionals and manual workers in both the traditional economic sectors (e.g. agriculture, construction, manufacturing, trade) and in the rapidly growing service sector (e.g. administration, tourism, catering, banking&finance, insurance, public transport, health-care, welfare). In all these sectors employers’ associations strongly advocated new forms of education&training between academic education and secondary vocational training.

From about the late 1970s this change in the nature of labour market’s demands got a new and far-reaching impetus due the implementation of information/computer technology (IT). The advent of IT is fundamentally changing production patterns but it also deeply affects all other economic sectors. The labour market’s needs changed and still are changing accordingly.

Up to the seventies higher education, mainly offering science/research-driven study programmes (academic programmes), could not provide for the skilled professionals the labour market urgently asked for. For that reason governments in Western countries have re-arranged and diversified their higher education sector by stimulating and supporting the setting up of labour market’s demand-driven study programmes. From that moment higher professional education (hpe) was introduced as a distinctive track within higher education next to the academic type of education. In many education systems this hpe-track contains two successive stages each of them leading to qualifications recognized by the labour market.[3]

In Western countries higher professional education programmes (hpe-programmes) are offered by higher educational establishments called: Fachhochschule, Polytechnic, Ammatikorkeakoulu, Hogeschool, or College3 or…., well it depends on the country.

1.2. Tertiary vocational education was also encouraged for social reasons. It was seen as a way of offering opportunities for higher education to an increasing number of secondary school-leavers. The setting up of hpe-programmes turned out to be an adequate provision not only to the labour market but also to the graduates from secondary general education. Those who are not able or who are not willing to enter into higher academic education (hae), got an alternative which offered them the opportunity to acquire a labour market recognized professional qualification within a relatively short period (2-3 years for the ‘college’-stage). Moreover, graduates from secondary professional education aiming at upgrading their qualification without interruption, could enter into successive hpe-programmes.

Looking at the image, the number and size of the institutes that offer hpe-programmes one only can conclude that their programmes are highly appreciated by labour market and students.

1.3. Economic and financial considerations were not absent either. Education authorities increasingly concerned about the overly long duration of university education and the high number of drop outs, viewed tertiary vocational education as a more efficient and -in view of the changes in labour market’s demands- more effective alternative to university education for a significant proportion of the age group concerned. 

1.4. By meeting the rising concern for continuing education among employers and society as a whole, hpe-institutions have been very successful in providing education to (un)employed adults seeking for re-training and/or upgrading of their qualification. In that respect hpe-institutions’ political legitimacy has been greatly enhanced as they became significant providers of lifelong learning.

Nowadays CEEC-countries seem to be faced with the same converging factors leading to the development of tertiary vocational education. However, in contrast with the situation of the 1960s and 1970s in Western countries CEEC-countries are also faced with extra difficulties because they have to overtake a considerable leeway in establishing their position in the international market, after all necessary for survival. For CEEC-countries this is a reason all the more not to wait too long before setting up tertiary vocational education.

In CEEC-countries the private education sector -focused on profit making and thus having an eye for opportunities- recognized very soon that the state-funded higher education did not react and in some occasions still does not react adequately to the changes in the labour market. A mushrooming of private hpe-programmes was the outcome, which demonstrates that these programmes indeed fill a gap in CEEC’s education systems.

[1]  In this report “tertiary vocational education” and “higher professional education” are used interchangeably

[2]  It would be getting too far off the workshop’s subject to dilate upon the causes of these changes. Still two factors are worth mentioning: (1) automation

   because of its considerable impact on the production and manufacturing processes and (2) the increase and ‘democratization’ of prosperity without 

   which the fast boom of the service sector cannot be unraveled.

[3]  In some countries the term ‘college education’ is used to refer to the first stage of higher professional education.