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Societal changes also necessary to stop education race

19 April 2024
Photo: Imagesrouges

According to sociologists Rolf van der Velden and Arie Glebbeek, education is in a deep crisis. More and more people are pursuing higher education to stay ahead of the rest, leading to a true education race. Changes in education policy will not be enough to turn the tide, they warn in a recently published memorandum.

More and more people are pursuing higher education. According to sociologists Rolf van der Velden (Maastricht University) and Arie Glebbeek (University of Groningen), this is not surprising. In our meritocratic society, education is the path to achieve social success. And the significant differences in rewards and status make it rational for people to choose higher education more quickly.

Education race

Due to this 'education race', the position of vocational education has been undermined. This has significant negative societal consequences, such as severe shortages of skilled workers at the vocational level and growing inequality. There are also individual consequences, such as students and parents having to make increasingly large investments — for instance paid forms of tutoring — to stay ahead of the rest.

From ladder to fan

Minister Dijkgraaf of Education, Culture, and Science wants to reverse this trend. In the fall of 2022, he announced that he wants to transform education from a 'ladder', where there is only one way up, to a 'fan'. In a fan, people can develop in different directions, and education is valued over the full width.

Neglected area

Van der Velden and Glebbeek argue in a memorandum recently published by the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) that the government has long contributed significantly to the situation. Vocational education has been neglected for decades. For a long time, 'head' was valued more highly than 'hand' and 'heart'. Or, to put it differently, the focus was much more on academic skills than on vocational skills.

Societal changes

The sociologists warn that the changes proposed by Dijkgraaf in education policy are not enough to stop the education race. They argue that several societal changes are also necessary to remove the underlying financial incentives to pursue more and more education.

Four switches

In their memorandum, the authors describe four changes, or as they call them, 'switches'. Firstly, the authors advocate for a drastic reduction in the wage differences between university, college, and vocational education, and better remuneration for professions that contribute to societal well-being, such as healthcare personnel, police officers, cleaners, and teachers. Additionally, they recommend more effort to attract talented students to sectors that are of great societal importance. Another recommendation is to strengthen professional pride and identity in vocational education. Finally, the authors believe that the focus should shift from what is the highest achievable for students to what suits them best.

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Last modified:19 April 2024 12.23 p.m.
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