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The vocational-academic divide in neoliberal uppersecondary curricula: the Swedish case

Journal article
Authors Mattias Nylund
P. A. Rosvall
K. Ledman
Published in Journal of Education Policy
Volume 32
Issue 6
Pages 788-808
ISSN 0268-0939
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Education and Special Education
Pages 788-808
Language en
Keywords Curriculum evaluation, vocational education, equal education, social class, EDUCATION, KNOWLEDGE, FRAMEWORK
Subject categories Educational Sciences


A historical tension between a more general and a more specific focus in post-compulsory education is made visible in some educational systems by the division into more academic and more vocational programmes. Embedded in this tension are questions of social justice and the purposes of education. In addition, division into academic and vocational programmes has class dimensions since youth with working class backgrounds are often over-represented in vocational programmes. This study investigates how this tension is handled in the Swedish upper secondary curriculum, which reflects an international neoliberal policy trend in promoting competition, employability and employer influence over the curriculum. By analysing how the educational content of vocational educational and training (VET) programmes and higher educational preparatory (HEP) programmes is contextualised, we found that the two programme types were based on very different logics. In VET programmes, knowledge is strongly context-bound and often related to regulating behaviours. This contrasts sharply with the way knowledge is contextualised in HEP programmes in which less context-bound knowledge and skills such as using concepts, models and critical thinking are dominant. Students in VET programmes are trained to do' and to adapt', while the students in HEP programmes are trained to think' and to imagine possibilities'. Thus, students from different social classes are prepared for very different roles in society.

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