1.       Tertiary profesisional and vocational education in Lithuania

Vincentas Dienys, Antanas Levickas, Romualdas Pusvaðkis




    Tertiary education traditionally has educated an elite group of young people to higher levels immediately after they complete upper secondary education. Recent technological, social and economic developments, a transition to the knowledge based society have resulted in wider demand for access to tertiary education. Three main reasons should be mentioned:

·       the proportion of young people who complete a full cycle of secondary education, and therefore are eligible for entrance into tertiary education, is increasing;

·       more and more applicants are coming from the employment system to develop their knowledge and skills to the higher level;

·       a constantly increasing number of vocational type occupations are requiring skills and knowledge of the tertiary level.

Traditional higher education institutions are not able to meet all those needs. Therefore a reform of tertiary education systems is taking place in fact all over the world, and challenges for postcommunist countries are even higher as their societies and economy are undergoing very radical changes.


    Types of post-secondary programmes

    In Lithuania there are four types of post-secondary programmes, which differ in duration, in level or in orientation:

1.     Post-secondary VET programmes to train those who have attended all course of upper secondary education for the qualification of a qualified worker. They are usually given at vocational schools and last from 1 to 2 years. The programmes are oriented towards development of professional skills. As they contain no well defined educational component, the programmes are classified as level 4 of the ISCED 1997.

2.     Higher vocational (college level) programmes. According to the Law on Education duration of those programmes should be 2-4 years of full-time studies. In practice the most popular duration is 3 years (more than 95%). Programmes are given in specific institutions “aukðtesniosios mokyklos” (colleges). Public colleges have evolved from previous technicums which had a status of special secondary educational institutions. The reform has started in 1991 with the aim to develop a non-university higher education sector. Specific requirements for programmes were formulated: it is compulsory to have in the programme a group of general subjects (e.g., philosophy, foreign language, informatics, business economy etc.) and to make an accent to practical orientation of education (at least 30% of time is to be allocated for practical training). However college level education is not recognized as higher education in Lithuania. In the national version of ISCED a special level in-between levels 4 and 5 is allocated for this type of programmes. This is made under the pressure of universities.  In the college level a private sector has also emerged.

3.     Professional programmes in universities. There is a lot of universities (Kaunas technological university, Vilnius technical university, Vilnius pedagogical university, University of agriculture, Veterinary academy etc.) which programmes should be in most cases professionally oriented and after first years of study graduates should be awarded a qualification (e.g., cattle-breeding technology, agronomy, agricultural technique, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, pilotage of airplanes). However a very strong tendency to concentrate on academic issues is observed, practical placements are often excluded, and therefore in many cases only the academic bachelors degree is awarded after the first 4 years of study. In some cases both the academic degree and qualification are awarded and only very rarely a qualification is an output of studies. As professional and academic streams are not separated in statistics, it is very difficult to evaluate the importance of professional sector in university studies.

4.     Academically oriented studies in universities (humanities, sciences, mathematics etc.).


    Statistical data

    Data on the development of the system of institutions offering various types of post-secondary programmes and numbers of students in different types of programmes are given in Tables 1 and 2, correspondingly.

Table 1

Numbers of schools








University level higher schools





























Vocational schools









Table 2

Students in post-secondary programmes








University level programmes:


     day time

     evening time

     by correspondence



























College level, public colleges:


     day time

     evening time

     by correspondence































College level, private colleges







ISCED 4 level, vocational schools:














    On the basis of provided data some remarks can be made:

1.     Interest for post-secondary education is steadily increasing both from the side of youth and from employed people.

2.     Persons from employment system more and more prefer to enter college level programmes.

3.     Private sector has emerged only in the sector of college level studies.

4.     Colleges are rather small: average number of post-secondary students in public colleges is only 484 and in private ones is 192.


    Present-day activities

    A problem of further development of professional post-secondary education is discussed very widely in Lithuania at present. First, the time has come to give a status of non-university higher education to programmes delivered at colleges. Second, universities have realized that they are too elite to adequately respond to the needs of employment system. Several activities were undertaken to start changes:

·       under the initiative of the Ministry of Education and Science and Phare VET Reform programme a White Paper on VET was prepared where for the first time it was officially declared a necessity to introduce a non-university higher education sector and it was suggested to form it by further development of temporary colleges;

·       under the initiative of the Seimas a drafting of new Law on Higher Education was started with the intention to legally introduce the non-university sector;

·       the EU Phare Higher Education Reform Programme was started. One of the objectives of the Programme is to develop “detailed recommendations for the rationalization of the higher education sector, including recommendations for the relationships of the college sector to the higher education sector”. A working group for the preparation of White Paper on higher education was formed, a new push was given to the drafting of Law on Higher Education, a problem of the development of quality assurance system in higher education was put on the agenda etc.

    As a result of those activities nobody is already arguing the expediency of building-up a binary higher education system with both university and non-university sectors present. A new period of intensive reform is started in the college sector: colleges have made self-evaluation, are revising their curricula, are working on the development of internal quality assurance systems etc. Universities in our opinion are less active.



    A lot of problems  are to be solved before a well functioning non-university higher education sector will be established. Most of them are traditional and well known to everybody: development of new curricula, improving links with employment system, training of staff, diversifying of financial resources etc. But there are two specific problems, which hinder the process of establishment of non-university sector:

·       the first period of the reform has led to the system of small colleges. To meet up to date international standards colleges are to be much larger. This could be done by merging several colleges to form one institution. It is quite understandable, that individual colleges often do not support the idea;

·       to start a second period of the reform a process of the establishment of new type institutions is to be legitimated. This should be done in the Law on Higher Education. When preparing the law there is a very strong pressure from the side of universities to make new colleges as academic as possible. For example, they have succeeded to include into the draft of law such statements: a director of the college is to have a scientific degree; at least one third of members of the pedagogical council are to have scientific degrees; at least 25% of pedagogical staff are to have scientific degrees etc. If such requirements will be formulated in the law colleges will face big difficulties when changing their status.

    Thus there are forces which stem the further development of tertiary professional and vocational education. Therefore we are of the opinion that a political decision is needed to make the reform effective and that our government is to play a leading role in creating the sector of tertiary professional and vocational education.

2.       Tertiary Professional and Vocational Education in Estonia


Elen Raudsepp , Tallinn Commercial School; Reet Neudorf, Ministry of Education



In 1998, a policy document was approved that aims at developing a VET system that ensures the adaptation of qualifications to the changing needs and lays the basis for life-long learning. However, many of the aspirations expressed in this paper can be put into practice only in a longer-term perspective. A major breakthrough in VET reform was achieved when the Law on Applied Higher Education Institutions and the Law on Vocational Education Institutions were adopted in June 1998. According to the latter, the transfer of the state vocational education institutions currently under the Ministry of Agriculture to the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education will be completed by 1 September, 2000. It also provides for (a) integrated financing of the VET institutions, (b) setting up of the tripartite sector bodies dealing with skill needs analyses and vocational standards, (c) more responsibility to be given to school managers and their tripartite boards and makes (d) the development and application of programmes more flexible. A new Law on Occupations is currently under preparation.


Another novelty, initiated from the demand in the labour market, is the opportunity for the graduates from the vocational education and training institutions to continue their studies. The higher vocational education level, which corresponds to ISCED level 5B, is supposed to meet the demand for the highly skilled technicians and associate professionals.


To give definition of tertiary professional and vocational education, basic definitions of the levels of post-secondary education in Estonia must be specified. First, post-secondary education itself is education which prerequisites secondary education (secondary general or secondary vocational). It has the following levels (See Annex):


a.       Post-secondary vocational education based on upper secondary general education (kutsekeskharidus üldkeskhariduse baasil): the objective is to prepare the employees with high general and theoretical knowledge about certain occupations in the service trade, office and customer services. In the Estonian educational system, it is not considered tertiary education but second level education which prerequisites secondary general education, i.e., it can be called post-secondary but not tertiary education.

b.       Vocational higher education (kutsekõrgharidus): the objective is to prepare technicians and associate professionals.

c.       Diploma studies (diplomiõpe): a specialised higher education programme with tendency towards applicability.

d.       Bachelor studies (bakalaureuseõpe): the first step of the academic studies. It consists of science- and occupation-related studies or other creative work and includes the thesis paper.


The tertiary education is offered by the following types of institutions:


1.       Vocational Education and Training Institutions (Kutseõppeaasutused): which offer post-secondary vocational education (Kutsekeskharidus); and the higher vocational education (Kutsekõrgharidus) (3 – 4 years of study, 120- 160 credits, one-third devoted to the practical training, ISCED5B).

2.       Applied higher education institutions (Rakenduskõrgkoolid): which offer the diploma programmes (Diplomiõpe) (3 – 4 years of study, 120 – 160 credits, ISCED 5A); and higher vocational education programmes (Kutsekõrgharidus) (3 – 4 years of study, 120 – 160 credits, ISCED5B).

3.       Universities (Ülikoolid): which offer the diploma programmes (Diplomiõpe) (3 – 4 years of study, ISCED 5A); Bachelor’s studies (Bakalaureuseõpe) (3 – 4 years of study, 120 – 160 credits, ISCED 5A); Master’s studies (Magistriõpe) (2 years of study, ISCED 5A); Doctoral studies (Doktoriõpe) (4 years of study, ISCED 6)


Admission Requirements

There are both general and specific requirements for accessing the studies at the first stage of higher education.

Two general requirements, approved by the Ministry of Education, are common to the higher education. These two, which provide admission to either diploma or Bachelor’s courses are: the secondary general school graduation certificate (gümnaasiumi lõputunnistus); and the certificates of national examinations (riigieksamitunnistus). Secondary education can be obtained, as already discussed, at upper secondary general school (gümnaasium) or, at upper-secondary vocational education and training institution, from which students graduate with the certificate about obtaining the vocational and secondary general education (lõputunnistus kutse- ja keskhariduse omandamise kohta). For admission to vocational higher education (Kutsekõrgharidus), the secondary vocational education certificate is now required according to the Law on Vocational Education Institutions and the Law on Applied Higher Education Institutions (June 1998); and for some courses the requirements are the same as for diploma or Bachelor’s courses. The post-secondary vocational education and training certificate, (lõputunnistus keskerihariduse omandamise kohta) can be considered an equivalent to the secondary general school graduation certificate.


Specific admission requirements vary depending on the higher education institution and the area of specialisation. The number of examinations may range from one to four, can be in the written, oral or interview form, and the other considerations such as the average grade on the secondary education graduation certificate, or the grade in a given subject.


In the public universities, the basis for admission is the enrolment control number fixed by the State and funded by the State allocation. But, the universities have the right to admit students above the State quota, who have to pay for their study places.

Academic Year

The academic year is divided into two semesters, beginning in September and ending in the first half of June (the lectures end usually in May). Generally, it comprises 40 weeks of lectures, seminars and practical training, along with a period for examinations.

The volume of study, or course workload, is measured in credits/credit points (ainepunkt). One credit corresponds to 40 hours (one study week) of coursework (lectures, seminars, practical training and independent work) completed by students. The normal study year comprises 40 credits.




General requirements for studying and teaching are set up by the Standard of Higher Education (Kõrghariduse standard). It is a collection of requirements drawn up by the Government for all levels of higher education. The objective is to set goals for instruction geared to acquisition of the speciality, vocational or professional skills and the general requirements for graduating from a university, including those related to the final thesis.


All higher education institutions are obliged to end subject courses with an examination or a preliminary examination, while the separate stages of a given subject can also be examined.




Those who teach applied subjects leading to a diploma normally have at least five years of specialist working experience. No less than half the subjects in the program are taught by the teachers with a Master's degree, or an equivalent qualification, or by acknowledged creative artists in the field of arts and music. Teachers in higher vocational education also normally have at least five years of work experience, in addition to their higher education qualifications.


No less than three-quarters of the curricular subjects for the Master's degree and no less than half of those for the Bachelor's degree are taught by the academics with doctorates or equivalent qualifications, or by acknowledged creative artists in the field of art and music. All curricular subjects at doctoral level have to be supervised by holders of doctorates.


Description of the program development, staff qualifications and the links to the labour market of the tertiary vocational education and training institutions in Estonia.


The EU Phare VET Reform Programme started in September 1995 and its objective was to “support the development, preparation and restructuring of human capital in and for enterprises and the public entities as required by the economic and social program”.


13 pilot schools providing vocational education and training at the secondary level were selected to participate in the programme. Three of these schools applied for the status of a vocational higher education institution. During the program implementation stage, 2 – 3 “satellite” schools were selected for each pilot school. These groups of schools form a central part of the programme’s dissemination strategy.


Estonia has chosen a flexible, modular-based and employer-led model for the program design. New national standards-based programs are being developed as a part of a modular system. The standards reflect the range of competencies required in a particular occupation. The course designers of the pilot schools have completed 13 new programs for different occupations/occupational groups. Each new program is prepared on the basis of an occupational analysis.


For program and other reforms to be effective at the school level, active and continuing upgrading of skills of the school management, teachers and course designers is essential. Teachers involved in delivering the new standards-based modular programs in 13 pilot schools attended national workshops on (a) international trends/developments on the initial/continuous training of VET teachers, (b) practical techniques of program development, (c) presentation skills and (d) techniques of supporting the learner.


The assessment strategy in Estonia will be as follows: these experts who were involved in drawing up competence/occupational profiles will also be involved in examinations and in evaluation of the competence profiles. There will be one additional expert to evaluate the new program. The whole assessment procedure must be seen in the broader context of establishing tripartite trade committees – Professional Councils – (Kutsenõukogud). The aim is to continuously improve the graduates’ performance on the labour market, to provide teachers with an instrument for measuring the students’ performance against the expected criteria, to receive feedback from the employers and students, and to find out a good way for monitoring and evaluating the new programs. The assessment of the quality and relevance of the VET program outputs is intended to be done by tracer studies, which means following the career paths of the graduates who benefited from the new programs and by consulting teachers and labour market experts; and by consulting the employers about the relevance of the new programs for the qualifications needed.