Brekkhus, Aashild Berg; Werler, Tobias (2017). 'Capability for Work and Empowerment through Vocational Education and Training (VET) in upper secondary education in Norway' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.



This paper is a part of a larger research project. The purpose of the paper is to seek insight in and evaluate capabilities for work and empowerment among students in vocational education and training (VET) in upper secondary schools in Norway. More precisely, the paper will investigate how VET within upper secondary schools, promote or inhabit students’ potentials and opportunities for development and capability expansion, within a context of education in a county in Western-Norway.

Capability at risk among students in Vocational Education and Training in Norway.

Close to 100% of all students from lower secondary schools, enroll into upper secondary schools in Norway. Approximately a 40% of these enroll into VET (Norway’s central institution for producing official statistics, 2017). In Norway, VET is an integrated part of the upper secondary school system. It follows though, a tripartite cooperation principle, conducted of both schools and enterprises (2+2-model).

According to Norwegian. During the last two decades both education and training policy and the stakeholders have put much efforts on making VET attractive regarding content and quality. In order to retain students in VET- programs, Norway implemented a more flexible curriculum in 1994 (R94) allowing students to transfer between vocational and academic tracks or steams, which gives the students access to tertiary education or universities. The purpose of this was improve equity in social and educational status (Støren, Skjerslid & Aamodt, 1998).

Nevertheless, the major evaluation of the reform showed that the school dropout rate remained high and to some extent also increasing in the period from 1995-2009 (Eurostat, 2016). The dropout rate is particular high among students undertaking VET, and especially among young men. VET- students in Norway rate low when it comes to learning outcome in academic subjects and the Organization for Economic Co-operation (OECD) (2015) warn against an increased gap between youth that are well- educated, and groups with poor education and qualification for work.


Human-capital or Human capability?

The Norwegian welfare-model has during the post-war period, been governed by the policy of peoples “rights and duties”, and a work-force policy [arbeidslinja] (Sosial og helsedepartementet, 1995). As Bonvin and Farvaque (2006) points out the labor marked policy in Europe, are under influence by a neo-liberal policy and human capital approach. This approach, is to some extent adopted by Norwegian governments. The Norwegian welfare state within labor market policies, then boil down to an idea of enhancing youth’s employability from which they may achieve a certain standards of living, and to benefit in the stock of human capital to improve economic growth and competitiveness. The rationale is “to improve people’s ability to integrate in the marked” rather than to protect them from the marked and commodification (ibid. p.131).

This study, in contrast, applies the capability approach and assumes that capability for work needs to be interlinked with a broad capability-set for life. We presuppose that VET should promote students capability to live a life they have reason to value (Sen 1999, 2009). Capability for life depends on the student’s empowerment and the freedom to choose among various aspects of life (ibid.). This view might have some affinities with the concept of bildung (Anderson, Otto & Ziegler, 2010) and the facts of student’s heterogeneities (Werler 2011, p. 157-159). This view challenge the top-down controlled mode of governance within the human capital policy and welfare regime, and call for the concept of “situatedness” (Bonvin &Farvaque 2006, p. 135).

This paper explores VET-students, enrolled in upper secondary education, capability for work, and their capabilities for life in terms of empowerment, as self-confidence and deliberative participation. Further, we asks how students experience VET to promote or inhabit their capability expansions.


Data &Design

The study has been carried out and are situated in a local context with in a county in the Western part of Norway. We have applied a qualitative method and two- case design. The data comprise 34 semi-structured pre-categorized interviews with students enrolled in VET, with in 5 upper secondary schools and 2 different VET-programs. The interviews were conducted in spring 2016 during the student’s last part of the two years of VET, with in upper secondary education.

In the analytical work, qualitative content analysis (Mayring, 2014) was applied for all the national sub-projects. Qualitative content analysis (QCA) is part of procedures for systematically text analysis interpreting texts rule governed and comprehensible in order to evaluate. The basic idea of qualitative content analysis is to systematically analyze texts by processing the empirical material gradually by a guiding theory (here: CA). Then, the resulting category system is based in both theory and empirical material.



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