03/07/2013 - There are few OECD countries where vocational education and training (VET) is held in such high regard or takes so many forms as in Austria. Some 60 percent of young Austrians aged between 25 and 34 have completed a VET course below tertiary level (vocational school or technical college). Vocational colleges, introduced in 1993-94, are becoming increasingly popular. The number of students in such institutions has almost quadrupled since the end of the 1990s, reaching some 37 500 in 2011.
In a country report on postsecondary vocational education and training, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the Austrian system. The study, from the series "OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training Policies" and published today, concludes that the Austrian system offers a high-quality, high-value service for many different social groups, though the diversity could be better co-ordinated and would gain in transparency and efficiency as a result.
Overall, the report notes that Austria has a wide range of pathways to give those completing VET programmes access to further training, though relatively few young people have taken advantage of them to date. Completing a vocational training course brings clear advantages on the labour market and relatively high earning capability. In addition, further examinations, such as those for master craftsman or foreman, provide an effective means of up-skilling, opening the door to greater responsibility or even the possibility of starting a business.
The authors also praise the social partners' close involvement in the VET system. Chambers of commerce and industry and chambers of trade in Austria have their own educational institutions. Both trade unions and employers play an active part on a range of committees which develop the VET programme, and hence exert a strong influence on the curriculum.
However, the report suggests improvements in four areas.
1) Better co-ordination of the variety of training. As things stand at present, the many different VET institutions are governed by different and unrelated rules. This leads to fragmentation, a lack of transparency and distortion of competition. The report recommends the introduction of an advisory board bringing together the relevant ministries, regional representatives, social partners and main VET providers. The board's mission would be to ensure better co-ordination and co-operation between VET providers and to make the offer of VET more coherent and more cost-efficient through strategic planning.
2) Simpler access to higher education. Many vocational school leavers go on to courses at vocational college but get no credits for subjects they have already taken in their secondary education. There has also been little take-up of university courses without an entrance exam (Matura). The report recommends linking the vocational school and college systems so that modules which form part of the curriculum in both systems are automatically recognised. In addition, vocational colleges in Austria should do more to integrate first-year students with a VET qualification and introduce special preparatory and transitional classes to reduce the high drop-out rate in this group. It would also be helpful to make the sometimes confusingly wide range of options available to young people with a vocational education more transparent through career guidance tailored specifically for them.
3) Compulsory workplace training. Periods of practical workplace training are widespread in Austrian VET but not compulsory. The report's authors believe that this should change. Many skills are transmitted more effectively through practical activity in firms than in the classroom. Consequently, compulsory workplace training should be included in the curriculum of all vocational schools. This option would have the additional advantage of involving employers even more in training design than has been the case to date.
4) Reflect labour market needs in the curriculum. Hitherto, the mix of different subjects in post-secondary VET has been determined above all by the students' interests, sometimes neglecting labour market needs. The report's authors recommend building on existing structures to better assess the economy's requirements and designing courses so that they meet employers' needs.
Journalists seeking further information should contact Antonie Kerwien, in OECD's Berlin Centre on firstname.lastname@example.org, +49 30 2888 3541