Thursday, 7 January 2016

Does vocational training lead towrds or away from HE? Hillmert & Jacob

This paper is based on research completed in Germany. Germany seems to have a more 'joined up' system of academic/vocational education than the UK, with well-developed vocational pathways which lead towards HE. However, it seems all is not perfect in this world, and that VET students may be at a disadvantage. The authors produce a model to discuss the 'returns to education' - the value gained from the education taken. It also looks at social disparity and the effects this has on educational choices. The research is quantitative, but does indicate some useful areas for general consideration and discussion, including thoughts around parental education levels.

Hillmert, S. & Jacob, M. (2003). Social inequality in higher education: Is vocational training a pathway leading to or away from university? European Sociological Review, 19(3), 319-334. Retrieved from


The authors look to examine the effect that an intermediate training alternative has on participation in HE, particularly in relation to social inequality. They develop a model of decision making as to how students transition through education in Germany.

Qualification levels and educational mobility

In Germany there is a marked wage differentiation between those who have studied at university and those with vocational qualifications, which is greater than the difference between those with VET and with no training.

The authors are interested in patterns of combinations of training and education in Germany, particularly with the increasing numbers of students attending HE ho have previously taken VET. The authors note the effect of parental education levels on the likelihood of children studying at HE level.

The theoretical model

Previous research suggests that different factors affect the participant at different choice points in their educational career. The authors use an individual decision model to explain the patterns in educational differences. Previous studies have highlighted 'risk aversion' as a rational way of decision making about education choices. The authors go further than previous models, discussing the effects of family origin.

The authors suggest that the route of vocational training followed by HE is less risky than an either/or choice of HE or joining the workforce immediately after school - the people have an 'insurance policy' of their vocational training to fall back on should their HE experience end in failure. They suggest that school-leavers calculate the outcomes of the different scenarios and make a rational choice based on their expectations for success.

Social inequality and educational systems

"Parents' education and income are strong predictors of the children's educational behaviour" (p. 329).

Summary and outlook

This is a theoretical model, although empirical data have been used to support it. However, the model provides information on how variables such as parental education and income interact. The authors identify study limitations such as basing the model on the concept of individual choice.

Why am I reading this?
I'm not sure how I came to this paper, perhaps solely by exploring literature around transition and VET.

What are the authors trying to do in writing this?
Produce a theoretical model which explores the choices made with regard to transition from school to vocational and/or HE. They seek to explain the choices made, and the effects of social inequality on access to HE.

What are they saying that is relevant to what I want to find out?
Not a lot really. Interesting general read but of no direct value to assignment one, except to perhaps consider asking about parental education. However, this would only be a scene-setting question rather than something I'm seeking to explore in my interview. Maybe I only reviewed this paper because I picked it up ages ago before my reading had become more focussed :-/

How convincing is what the authors are saying?
The authors are generally convincing in their specific methodology, although (as I suppose many  theoretical models are) it does seem very simplistic.

In conclusion, what use can I make of this?
Not a lot. Background reading. Perhaps consider parental education levels.

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