Lessons from technical education in Denmark

by Sally Dicketts

Last term I travelled to Copenhagen with the Gatsby Foundation and two other college principals to look at how Denmark does vocational education and see what lessons we can learn from their experience. Colleges in Denmark tend to specialise – I visited an engineering college for instance. In Denmark, as in the UK, there is a general prejudice in favour of academic education – at 16 plus only 20% choose further education but at 19 plus, almost half of all students are in vocational education and adults continue to pursue vocational routes throughout their careers. I visited a IT training facility where the students following a technical IT programme ranged from 19 to 48 years old.

The Danish system is based on four year programmes leading to a license to practice; there are no fees and learners receive a small stipend. The standard and extent of adult education is very good. On the downside, the Danish system is heavily regulated: the social partners – business, unions, local and national government – determine what programmes colleges can provide and there is less scope for entrepreneurship and choice.

The Copenhagen experience is interesting in view of the three major developments to hit our sector – the government’s industrial strategy, the review of 18 plus provision and the forthcoming T-levels.

I recently discussed the future of post-18 education with other college principals in a debate chaired by Philip Augar, chair of the independent panel that is advising the government. The review offers lots of exciting possibilities for us on higher education. However, most HE providers have seen applicant numbers drop by between 20 and 30% this year. The market is tightening and becoming more competitive which means many of the newer universities are increasingly trying to enter our market and competing directly with our colleges. This will be a great challenge to us to make clear the distinctiveness of our higher education provision, built on our Learning Philosophy and our understanding of learners’ attributes.