OECD ‘calls for reform’, Denmark takes it easy

On 4 September, the OECD published a review with a press release titled: “OECD calls for reform of postsecondary vocational education and training in Denmark.” On the same day, the Danish authorities sent out the same report with a press release concluding: “Danish VET system praised by OECD.”

Both are right, but actually the Danish interpretation seems a better conclusion of the gist of the review than the OECD’s own.

The OECD highlights four key conclusions from the Skills beyond School report.

Denmark is urged to “maximise the benefits of research and development” by strengthening collaboration among universities, university colleges, academies and the private sector. It should improve its system for recognition of prior learning. It should ensure that the vocational knowledge and skills of post-secondary VET teachers remain up to date.

Lastly, and interestingly in view of the title of its own press release, the OECD calls on Denmark to postpone a planned 2015 reform that moves professional bachelors away from the academies and into university colleges.

All of these are quite interesting from the quite specific Danish perspective. Starting with the latter, it seems to contradict the call to strengthen the link with R&D.

Peder Michael Sørensen was involved in the review for the Danish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education.

He believes that the call to actually postpone planned reforms stems from the site visits the OECD made in Denmark.

“I think they found some professional energy and drive at the academies that may not have been fully matched at the university colleges,” he said, hinting that a solution must be found that does achieve closer interaction between education, R&D and the private sector while preserving the enthusiasm of all parties involved.

Sørensen recognises the need to focus more on teachers’ professional development. While Denmark has a solid track record in cooperation between the worlds of work and learning, it seems to benefit students more than teachers.

“We have used many resources on creating a balance between practice and theory, but teachers may have lost out a bit,” he said.

“We are aware of that and have earmarked extra funds for professional competence development among teachers, whom we would like to see more closely connected to the actual labour market for which they prepare their students.”

The one area where Sørensen thinks the OECD may have missed the point is in its criticism of the lack of institutionalisation in recognition of prior learning.

“It would seem, quite understandably, that the OECD is used to comparing with countries that have a very different culture in this area. I have experienced at close hand what the reforms in France entailed and the bureaucracy of it was incredible. We do the same things already in Denmark, but they are far less paperbound.”

What Sørensen means is that in Danish society as a whole, certificates, formal accreditations and rubber stamps are not nearly as important for leverage as they are in other countries around the world. Introducing a formal framework for recognising prior learning would add heavy bureaucracy to a system that has long functioned well without it.

Reviews of Denmark and South Korea are the first published examinations of post-secondary vocational training in 17 OECD countries. They form part of the OECD's Skills beyond School exercise.

Full country policy reviews are being conducted in Austria, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Israel, Korea, The Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (England) and the United States (with case studies of Florida, Maryland and Washington State).

Shorter exercises leading to an OECD country commentary will be undertaken in Belgium (Flanders), Canada, Iceland, Romania, Spain, Sweden and in Northern Ireland and Scotland in the United Kingdom.

Background reports will be prepared in all these countries, and in France, Hungary and Mexico.