Concepts of Quality in the recent Reform Agreement on Vocational Education and Training in DenmarkForståelser af uddannelses- og undervisningskvalitet i erhvervsuddannelsesreformen
The systems of vocational education and training are facing a number of challenges in many European countries. The share of young people who are neither employed, nor in education or training (NEET) is still higher for graduates from upper secondary VET than from upper secondary general programmes. Students who enter vocational programmes are less likely to graduate than those who are enrolled in general programmes. Moreover, they are nearly five times less likely to enrol in further education than graduates from general secondary schools with similar proficiency in literacy (OECD 2015). These trends means that the challenges are twofold. First, the VET systems are required to offer double qualifications, which give access not only to skilled employment, but also to higher education (Deissinger et.al 2013). Secondly, the VET systems are met by diverse demands to be social inclusive and exclusive at the same time (Jørgensen 2014). The demand for social inclusion stems from the political goal of giving all young people some kind of post-compulsory degree to enhance their employability. Hence the challenge for VET is to provide educational opportunities for students often with a disadvantaged social background. The second challenge is to attract more students – even when a growing share of a youth cohort in most countries are opting for higher education. These recent trends, challenges and demands address issues on quality and quality assurance of the VET systems in many European countries these years. One example of this increased focus on quality in VET is the VET system in Denmark, where a new reform of VET was decided by a broad political coalition in the Danish Parliament by 2014, in order to address issues of quality in VET. Hence the aim of the reform is to create ‘a better and more attractive vocational education and training’. But what does 'better' and 'more attractive' mean? Firstly, this paper examines the perceptions and concepts of quality that is reflected in the political Agreement on the quality and attractiveness of Danish vocational education. Secondly, the paper identifies a number of challenges related to these different perceptions and concepts of quality. The research question of the paper is: What concepts of quality draws the political Agreement on Better and More Attractive Vocational Education and Training programmes on? And with which potential implications for the political expectations to the VET system and the VET schools? The paper is based on the assumption that the VET reform is to be considered as a quality reform and an analysis of the quality perspectives, drawing on the political Agreement on Better and More Attractive Vocational Education and Training (2014) reveals which formal expectations and demands the VET programs are expected to meet. The paper provides an analysis of these expectations by drawing on a new institutional organizational perspective (Scott 2008). An institutional perspective is interesting and relevant as vocational schools within this must be understood as organizations, whose survival is contingent to a stabile level of legitimacy. Legitimacy is ensured by responding appropriately to the expectations that exist in the organization's environment. For vocational schools in Denmark legitimacy is fundamental and ensured by trust from actors in the environment such as politicians, social partners, students, prospective students, parents, internship companies and companies employing the skilled workers and journeymen. 'Quality' in vocational training undergoes negotiations and is to be defined by these actors (both direct and indirect). In this paper focus is solely on the Agreement, which is due to the assumption that the Agreement as empirical piece provides evidence for and knowledge on the political view on the formal existence and legitimacy of VET.