The Position of Vocational Education in the Educational Race: Can the ‘Ladder’ become a ‘Fan’?

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New Research Memorandum


Education is in a deep crisis. A race has arisen in which everyone has started to receive more and more education to stay ahead of the rest. This is due to the coincidence of two developments:

  • Education is increasingly the dominant route through which social success is achieved, legitimized by a meritocratic ideology.
  • It is rational for individuals to obtain the highest possible education because
    this provides access to the best jobs in terms of income and status.

The phenomenon of a vertical top-heavy education ladder is eroding the position of upper secondary vocational education and has major negative individual and social consequences. This has prompted Dutch Minister of Education Robbert Dijkgraaf to argue for a change from the current unidimensional ‘educational ladder’ to an ‘educational fan’ with various horizontal and vertical options. A number of measures are proposed for this purpose, but due to the lack of a clear problem analysis, the possible effectiveness of these measures is limited. In this contribution we explain why and argue that this first and foremost requires a number of social changes that remove the underlying financial incentives to obtain more and more education. In addition, measures are needed that lead to a better allocation of scarce talent, measures aimed at strengthening vocational education and the revaluation of craftsmanship and measures that are more focused on the broad development of talent.

Rolf van der Velden, Arie Glebbeek (2024) The Position of Vocational Education in the Educational Race: Can the ‘Ladder’ become a ‘Fan’? ROA Research Memoranda No. 002E