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Higher Education Strategy Associates

Tag Archives: Germany

October 05

Why Companies Value(d) Higher Education

I recently read the book A Perfect Mess: the Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education by David Larabee.  It’s very good – in fact, the first two chapters are for my money the best short history of pre-1900 American higher education ever written.  I’m going to refer to this book a few times over the next couple of weeks.  But today, I want to talk about an engaging little passage he penned about how business came to view college (that is, American “college”, our universities) as an indispensable pre-requisite to white collar jobs.

There was a time, of course, where this wasn’t the case.  Well after the Civil War, medicine and law remained jobs filled through apprenticeship rather than something that required higher education.  Andrew Carnegie famously said he had known few young men who were not injured by a higher education system that stamped the fire and energy out of them.  The conversion of men like Carnegie into boosters rather than detractors was key to higher education becoming a mass phenomenon.  If business had kept that attitude, the system today would look completely different (mainly, it would be much, much smaller).

So what was it that changed?  According to Larabee, business leaders came to appreciate college because of changes both in the structure of higher education and the structure of business.  Business changed because management – that is, the general ability to apply verbal and cognitive skills to organizations problems – became more important.  And higher education provided this training in three ways.

First, the importation of German ideas about how to run universities led to an increased emphasis on giving students broad assignments which they would need to work out on their own.  This gave graduates experience with the kind of autonomy and problem-solving needed in the modern workplace.  Second, the need to navigate the complex formal and informal social, academic and administrative hierarchies of the university gave graduates the skills needed to navigate the similarly complicated hierarchies of modern corporations.  Third, the socialization process that colleges put students through to promote institutional loyalty (the arrival of intercollegiate sports at the turn of the twentieth century was a big help here) was also important: businesses value loyalty highly.

It’s a persuasive theory, and I think it also speaks to what may be wrong in the college/business interface in the present-day as well.  If you look at universities, they’re still training and socializing students much as they always did: problem-solving, hierarchy-navigating, and loyalty-inducing (granted, that third one has been much more prominent in American and Japanese institutions than it has elsewhere, but the point is this hasn’t become any less important over time no matter what the starting baseline).  But business has changed.  Partly, it’s about speed but I would argue it is more about permeability.  In an age of flatter corporate hierarchies, young trainees are required to deal at a fairly early stage to deal with actors outside the companies in order to get things done.  They are doing front-line sales and communications more often.  They are dealing with external suppliers more often.  Success in the new business world relies not simply on navigating the internal environment, it requires a lot more horizontal networking and engaging with external hierarchies.

And this, I would argue, is something higher education – be it in colleges or universities – hasn’t yet figured out how to impart.  And it’s not entirely clear that the Work Integrated Learning fad du jour is a solution, since all that really does is transpose a student temporarily from one hierarchy to another.  (To be clear: I’m not saying WIL isn’t valuable, I’m just saying it doesn’t solve this particular problem).

I should emphasize that I’m not carping here.  It’s not obvious to me how universities could actually give students this kind of experience, and many may well say either that it’s impossible or that they shouldn’t try.  Fair enough.  But just remember that if institutions can’t perform their training/socializing role to employers’ satisfaction, there’s no reason to think higher education will continue to receive the public support it currently does, either.

Given that, working out how to give students those kinds of experiences – either in class or through extra-curricular activity – is probably worth a ponder.

December 09

Sleepwalking Towards Massively Increased Participation Rates

I was in Berlin last week giving a keynote at the 20th Anniversary conference of the CHE (Centre for Higher Education Policy).  The topic was – promise not to laugh – “What Germany can Learn From Canada”.

You said you wouldn’t laugh.  Last time I trust you lot.

Anyways, the speech basically revolved around the following graph, which shows Canada’s impressive increase in university participation rates:

 Figure 1: 18-21 University Participation Rates, Canada, 1992-2014

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So, what did we actually do as a country to achieve this?  Can you name a single province that said: “hey, let’s increase participation rates by 60%!  And here’s an integrated series of policies to get us there!”

Of course you can’t, because it didn’t happen (apart from Ontario eliminating OAC, but that’s a pretty small effect).  Canadians never plan anything.  We just muddle through, and then try to explain what it is we did as if we’d had a clue to begin with.  But try explaining that to a crowd of Germans.  I had to fall back on the whole “Canada is a country that works in practice, but not in theory” gag.  Still, it’s an interesting question: If no government or institution set a 60% growth target fifteen years ago, how did we get here?

Clearly, part of it is demand.  In the 1990s, we still had a lot of unmet demand, especially in Alberta and British Columbia.   There were simply not enough spots to grow around, and so, in part, growth was just a matter of satisfying existing demand.  But demand has clearly risen since then, too.  And why not?  Employment levels for university grads have remained higher than those for other fields of study (in most provinces, anyway) and so have pay levels, even if the gap between university and college has narrowed a bit.

But what made institutions choose to accept these students?  Check out what was happening to operating income per student.

Figure 2: Average Operating Income per FTE Student, Canada, 1992-2012

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Basically, we threw money at universities so they would take more students.  Even after increasing student numbers by about 50%, universities were getting more money per student, in real dollars, than they were before the expansion. Institutions simply couldn’t lose by expanding.

This would be easy to explain if in fact universities benefited from formulae that would increase money automatically as student numbers increased.  Now, what’s interesting here is that while governments did increase money every year, they did so regardless of whether they had formulae.  As long as students came, money flowed.  But grant money alone wouldn’t have allowed universities to keep pace.  The rise in tuition fees was necessary to keep the gates open.

But here’s the weird thing: despite all the increases in fees, students didn’t actually end up paying more.  In net terms, costs remained about the same because of the significant increases in various type of subsidies – especially tax credits.

Figure 3: Fees, Net Fees, and Net Fees After Tax Expenditures (TE), Canada, 1992-2009

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(Yeah, I know, the data’s a little old on that figure.  It’s the best I’ve got.  Sorry.)

In other words, apart from international student fee income, all the extra fee revenue institutions picked up over the last fifteen years was just government subsidy flowing indirectly to institutions.  Like a huge crazy voucher program in disguise.

Did anyone plan this?  No.  It was a mix of independent federal and provincial decisions, reacting to societal demand for more education.  We muddled through.  But boy, in retrospect, it seems like an awfully messy way to have got here.

Maybe time for a policy clean-up?

October 17

North American Fachhochschule

When trying to make big-picture comparisons between Europe and North America, one big difference always shows up: the existence in Europe of large, Bachelors’-degree-delivering institutions, which are nevertheless not universities.

These go under various names in various places – ammattikorkeakoulu in Finland (which the government translates as “polytechnics”, but which institutions themselves choose to translate as “universities of applied sciences”), Hogescholen voor Hoger Beroepsonderwijs (or HBOs) in the Netherlands, or Fachhocschule in Germany and Austria.   Because they are all “not-universities”, and because they all describe themselves as being in the business of providing a more “applied” type of education than traditional universities, the easy temptation is to compare them to our own “not-universities” – i.e. community colleges.  But this is simply wrong.

The first way it’s wrong is that these European Non-University Higher Education Providers (or NUHEPs, to steal a phrase from my Australian colleague, Andrew Norton) deliver all of their programming at the Bachelor’s level, or higher.  They do not, for the most part, get involved in trades training via apprenticeships.  And – in some countries at least – they also dominate the “continuing education” market for short-course professional post-baccalaureate training.

But while we don’t have Fachhochschule sectors, per se, it is nonetheless true that North America is gradually developing institutions that look a great deal like Fachhochschule.  The most obvious examples are in the United States, where community colleges are starting to deliver 4-year Bachelor’s degrees. (e.g. Florida).  In Canada, some of our newer universities (e.g. Mount Royal and MacEwan) look somewhat like Fachhochschule, though it’s not a comparison either would likely accept.  More eager to claim that mantle would be the colleges that actively refer to themselves as “polytechnics”, which, like their European counterparts, engage in a fair bit of applied research (this is not unknown at American community colleges, but it’s rarer).

What’s interesting about the way this phenomenon is emerging in North America is that it’s piecemeal in nature.  It’s not happening because governments are saying “hey, we need some more professionally-oriented Bachelor’s level programming – let’s create some new institutional forms to deliver it”.  That was always unlikely to happen over here because our universities are considerably less sniffy than European ones about delivering professionally-oriented programming – after all, most of the new programs universities have added in the last fifty years, such as nursing, business, journalism, etc., have been in professional areas.  Instead, what’s happened is that community colleges have taken advantage of universities’ inherent disciplinary conservatism by trying to pick-off new fields of work that are being professionalized (e.g. construction management) and offer degree programs in these, before the universities can get to them.  And by and large, they’ve been pretty successful at that, though in no case are these institutions’ Bachelor programs anything like the dominant credential they deliver – for the most part, they remain providers of sub-baccalaureate education.

Will we ever reach the point where any of our non-university institutions, like European Fachhochschule, are fully engaged in Bachelor’s level education?  My guess is no.  Once institutions reach a certain level of intensity in terms of Bachelor’s degree provision our governments’ instinct will be to “promote” them to universities, as happened in Alberta and British Columbia over the last ten years.  And indeed, that may still happen in Europe – even the Finnish Polytechnics are agitating for legal recognition as universities.

The prestige pull of the word “university” is mighty hard to resist.

October 14

Free Tuition in Germany

A few years ago, Germany’s Supreme court declared that tuition fees were constitutional, thus paving the way for some states to experiment with fees.  Seven of them (containing over half of all students) did so: Baden-Wurttemburg, Bavaria, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Saarland.  The fees varied a bit from place to place, but most settled on a modest €500 (Hesse was €1000) – though in some places waiver systems meant that as many as a third of students paid nothing at all.

Gradually, the Länder have reversed their decisions, and this fall the final Länder (Lower Saxony) got rid of fees.  Hence a raft of stories in the last couple of weeks about Germany “going tuition-free”, and questions from some quarters, asking: “could Canada do the same”?  To which the answer is: of course we could.

It would be trivially easy for us to eliminate tuition.  Heck, we already pay net zero tuition, in that what we charge domestic students is more or less equal to what we spend on various forms of non-repayable aid.  If we got rid of all our student aid and scholarship programs we could have free tuition.  It would be a bit rough on low-income students, students with dependents, and college students (who for the most part would lose money on the deal); it also would be a windfall for wealthier kids who go to university, but I’ve yet to meet anyone in the free-tuition camp who seems to care about that.  Of course, that too would make us more like Germany, where direct funding for living costs is pretty meagre: only about 20% of students there qualify for student aid, and it tends to be for far less than what our students get.

At another level, of course, it would be even more trivially easy for us to “do a Germany”.  All we need to do is stop spending so much public money on higher education.  Their expenditure on higher education is about half of what ours is: per-student funding to institutions in Germany is about $10,000 (€7,000); in Canada, it’s about $15,000.  And that has impacts as well: professors there, on average, only get paid about 60% of what ours do.  When education costs are so low, it’s not difficult to keep tuition down.

German participation rates in higher education are also lower than ours, in part because they have no money to accommodate more students.  They could have kept tuition fees and directed institutions to use that money to expand access, but they preferred not to do that.  And so, as a result, the German student body is much more socio-economically selective than ours is – indeed, it is one of the most selective anywhere in Europe, and was so before fees were introduced.

So ask not if we could become like Germany, ask why we’d want to be more like Germany.  Why would we want to spend less public money on higher education?  Why, when the private returns to education are so high, would we want to exempt the beneficiaries from paying for the privileges they receive?  Why would we want to give a windfall benefit to children from wealthier families who quite clearly have the capacity and desire to pay?  Why would we spend all that money when the benefits to the poor – whose net tuition is already close to zero – would benefit barely at all?

Warum, indeed.

June 23

The Effects of Tuition Fees (Part 1)

For the last eighteen months or so, I’ve been working on a project with colleagues Dominic Orr and Johannes Wespel of the Deutsche Zentrum für Hochschul- und Wissenschaftsforschung (DZHW) for the European Commission, looking at the effects of changes in tuition fees and fee policies on institutions and students.  The Commission published the results on Friday, and I want to tell you a little bit about them – this week I’ll be telling you about the effects on institutions, and next week I’ll summarize the results with respect to students.

The first question we answered had to do with whether or not a rise in tuition ultimately benefits higher education institutions.  Critics of fees sometimes suggest that extra fees do not in fact result in institutions receiving more money, because governments simply pull a fast one on the public and withdraw public money from the system, thus leaving institutions no better off.  Our examination of nine case studies revealed there were certainly some occasions where this was the case – Canada in the mid-90s, Austria in 2001, and the UK in 2012 – but that in the majority of cases fee increases were accompanied by stable or increased government funding.  Moreover, in all the cases where there was an accompanying decrease in public funding, it was signalled well in advance by governments, and indeed the increase in fees was deliberately designed to be a replacement for public funds. We did not find a case where a government “pulled a fast one”.

The second question we asked was how universities reacted to the introduction of fees: did they suddenly start chasing money and becoming much more sensitive to the demands of students and donors?  The answer, by and large, was no, for three reasons.  First, tuition isn’t the only financial incentive on offer to institutions; particularly if they are already funded on a per-student basis, the introduction or increase of fees isn’t likely to change behaviour.  Second, institutions won’t go after fees in ways that they think will negatively affect their prestige.  In Germany for instance, many universities have considerable latitude to raise income via teaching through continuing-education-like programs, but effectively they don’t do this, because they believe that engaging in that sort of activity isn’t prestige-enhancing.  And third, institutions often delay altering their behaviour too much because they don’t believe government policy will “stick”.  In Germany, specifically, the feeling was that the introduction of fees was unlikely to last and so there was no point in getting too invested in attracting new students to take advantage of it.

In fact, although fees in public institutions are often touted as a way to make universities more flexible and more responsive to business, the labour force, etc., this never actually works in reality, because universities are saddled with enormous legacy costs (you can close a program, but you still have to pay the profs), and have a particular self-image that means  they closely-tied to traditional ways.  What does seem to work – at least to some degree – is to allow the emergence of new types of higher education institutions altogether.  In Poland, it was only the emergence of private universities that allowed the system to take on the explosion of demand in the 1990s.  In Finland, an entirely new type of higher education institution (ammattikorkeakoulu or “Polytechnics”) was developed to take care of applied education, and accounted for 80% of all enrolment growth since 1995.

Next week: the effects on students.  See you then.

March 26

Some Final Thoughts on German Apprenticeships

If you’ve been following our Minister of Employment and Social Development, Jason Kenney, lately, you’ll know that he’s taken a keen interest in German apprenticeships.  So much so that his office recently organized a study trip to Germany, to which various provincial education ministers and Ottawa association types were also invited.

There are, basically, eight major differences between our system of apprenticeships and theirs. To wit:

1)      Our apprenticeship system is post-secondary, and caters to people in their 20s.  Theirs is essentially part of the secondary system, and caters to 17-19 year-olds.

2)      As a corollary, German apprentices spend a higher proportion of in-class training on basic employability skills (reading and math) than on technical skills.  They also spend a greater proportion of their time in class, as opposed to in the workplace.

3)      German apprenticeships take 2-3 years, ours take 4-5 (I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer as to why this is the case).

4)      German apprentices mostly do day-release training, not block release, resulting in a better fit between training and work.

5)      The range of apprenticeable occupations is much wider in Germany. Ours are effectively restricted to skilled trades; theirs include banking, retail sales, international trade, etc.

6)      Germany has well-articulated paths from apprenticeships to degrees. In Canada, this only exists at a couple of polytechs (eg. NAIT/SAIT), though the situation is improving.

7)      Germany distinguishes between “journeypersons” and “journeypersons who are qualified to supervise apprentices”.  This professionalizes the learning that takes place on the worksite, which is to the good.

8)      The obvious one: you don’t have to beat German employers over the head with a shoe to get them to invest in training on their own.

Take what you want from numbers 2-8; in the Canadian context, number 1 is the one that matters for federal policy-making: if you want to ape the German model, the feds need to get out of the system.

There are lots of interesting things about this model, of course.  But as long-time readers will know, I’m pretty skeptical about the rhetorical uses to which the legendary German apprenticeships are put in the Canadian context.  They are almost always deployed as an argument for increasing investment in skilled trades (which is wrong – less than 30% of German apprenticeships are in the skilled trades), and/or as a solution to youth unemployment, which seems to me to be a serious case of confusing correlation with causation.  Over the past few months, Kenney has been guilty of both of these sins.

So it was interesting the week before last when Minister Kenney decided to take me to task for some of my skeptical tweeting on the subject.  After a brief and interesting exchange, he offered this insight into his thinking:

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This is kind of a big deal.  If all of Kenney’s drum-banging about apprenticeships is actually about experiential learning, then that changes the debate enormously.  There are loads of people who could get on board with that.  When I pointed this out to him, he replied:

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Here’s hoping.  It would mark an important improvement in our policy debate if he does.

December 09

Apprenticeships: Canada vs. Germany

Let’s play a game called: “Comparing Canadian and German Apprenticeships Using Actual Statistics, Instead of the Usual Misinformed Anecdotal BS That Passes for Analysis in Canadian PSE Policy Circles”.  We can start by asking: does Germany have more apprentices than we do?

Statistics Canada puts our apprenticeship population at 426,000.  In Germany, the number is 1.43 million.  But remember, Germany’s population is 2.6 times larger than Canada’s.  Normalized per 1000 of population, the relative number of apprenticeships looks like this:

Apprentices per 1000 of Population, Canada and Germany

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: CANSIM 477-0053; Statistische Bundesamt, Bildung und Kultur Fachserie 11, Reihe 3, “Berufliche Bildung”, author’s calculations

So, overall, we do indeed trail Germany in terms of number of apprentices.

But the claim usually made on behalf of Germany is not just that it has lots of apprentices, but that these apprenticeships are the source of Germany’s manufacturing prowess.  Certainly, the skilled-trades brigade makes this point, and they seem to have convinced Essential Skills Minister, Jason Kenney, of this as well.

The problem is that it’s not true.  And that’s because German apprenticeships for the most part have nothing to do with what we call “skilled trades” (basically, anything involving construction or motive mechanics).  Check this out:

Proportion of All Apprentices that are in Construction/Mechanics Trades, Canada and Germany

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: CANSIM 477-0053; Statistische Bundesamt, Bildung und Kultur Fachserie 11, Reihe 3, “Berufliche Bildung”, author’s calculations

Want more detail?  Let’s look at some of the key occupations that various pundits claim are a problem in Canada.

Electricians.  This is Canada’s largest apprenticeship category, with 64,000 apprentices. Germany has… 35,000.  Adjusting for population size, that means Canada has 4.75 electrician apprentices for every one in Germany.

Carpenters, Plumbers.  These are our second and third largest occupational categories, with 51,000 and 44,000 apprentices, respectively.  Unfortunately, we can’t make a comparison here because Germany only publishes statistics for the top 20 apprentice occupations, and neither carpentry nor plumbing make that list.  Yes, really.

Automotive Mechanics.  Germany is slightly ahead here – 58,530 apprentices to our 41,760.  But normalized for country size, Canada has 85% more auto mechanic apprentices than Germany.

So if German apprentices aren’t in skilled trades, what are they doing?  Well, take a look at the top ten apprenticeships in each country (the % of all apprenticeships represented by each occupation is in brackets).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: CANSIM 477-0053; Statistische Bundesamt, Bildung und Kultur Fachserie 11, Reihe 3, “Berufliche Bildung”

You see, German apprenticeships are not about “skilled trades” in the way we think of them.  They incorporate occupations in the service industries that actually employ most people in a modern economy, like retail, insurance, banking, health, and public service.  Ours don’t.  End of story.

Bottom line: if Germany has a lead on Canada in terms of skilled trades, it’s not because of the number of apprentices they train.  To the extent that apprenticeships account for this lead at all (as opposed to, say, industrial structure), other factors like apprenticeship completion rates, or the quality of the actual training delivered, are more likely to be at work.

So here’s a New Year’s resolution for the entire country: we’re all going to shut the hell up about needing to have, “more skilled trades apprentices, like Germany”, and move on to more productive conversations.  OK?

Grazie, Buon Anno.

November 11

Kevin Lynch is Horribly Wrong

It’s disappointing that Kevin Lynch, former head of the public service in Ottawa, is the latest victim of that peculiarly Canadian disease, where one’s casual knowledge of the German apprenticeship system leads one to lose all critical faculties – as demonstrated in this awful article from the weekend Globe.

The article starts by noting that, “in proficiency in numeracy and literacy among 16-24 year-olds…, Canada is lagging the results for the Nordic countries, Australia and Germany”.  Wrong.  Well, at least partly wrong.  In literacy, the statement is true with respect to Australia, Finland, and Sweden, but differences between Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Canada are statistically insignificant.  And in numeracy, Australia and Norway are identical to Canada (pgs. 72-82 of the PIAAC report).  The article then goes on to note that, “In preparing young Canadians… experiential education appears to be quite valuable, especially for the skilled trades, and here there may be much to learn from others” – “others” apparently meaning Germany.

Leaving aside the issue that German PIAAC results aren’t really better than Canadian ones, it’s hard to understand why Lynch thinks that – even in theory – higher participation in the skilled trades would have strong positive effects on PIAAC scores.  Literacy and numeracy “skills” are quite different than “skilled” trades.

Lynch then sails into the usual puppy love about German vocationalism.  It’s “impressive”, according to him, that 50% of German high school students end up in vocational programs.  As if this was a choice.  As if streaming didn’t enter into it.  As if this streaming didn’t end up disproportionately steering poorer Germans and immigrants into vocational schools.  As if Germans themselves hadn’t noted how this dynamic contributes to Germany having among the most unequal literacy and numeracy outcomes in the OECD.

From there, it’s the usual conflation of apprenticeships with skilled trades, a peculiarly Canadian mistake.  If you look at the top ten occupations for apprenticeships in Germany, only three are in (what we’d call) the skilled trades: mechanic, mechanical engineer, and cook (the other seven – retail sales, office administration, business administration, medical administration, hairdressing, wholesale and export sales, and “sales” – would mostly be taught at colleges in Canada).  And then, to wrap up the article, is the specious argument that this vocational education system is the cause of Germany’s current low level of unemployment (seven years ago Germany had an unemployment rate of 12% – were apprenticeships the cause of that, too?).

Lynch’s argument, then, is: German youth have better PIAAC skills than Canadian youths (partly wrong), PIAAC skills are improved by skilled trades (huh?), German apprenticeships = skilled trades (wrong), and apprenticeships = lower unemployment (wrong).

Experiential education is, of course, a good thing.  But how about we discuss it without all this irrelevant nonsense about Germany?  It doesn’t improve the quality of our debate, at all.

August 06

Correlation and Causation in Technical Education

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

“In many Northern and Central European countries, including Switzerland and Germany, there are robust apprenticeship programs. In both of those countries, youth unemployment is very low compared to Canada and the U.S.”

Or this:

“As the economy changes, however, it is increasingly clear that this is the polytechnic moment… in the recent recession, youth unemployment was lower in countries with strong vocational training programs.”

There are three propositions here.  One is that Canada’s apprenticeship/vocational training/polytechnics systems are weaker than those in what for the sake of brevity I will call Germanic Central Europe (GCE).  Another is that unemployment is lower in GCE than it is in Canada.  Finally, it is heavily implied that there is some sort of causal relationship at work here; that GCEs have lower unemployment rates because of their educational systems.

Let’s take those three in turn.    It is certainly true that GCE countries have more apprentices than we do. But the term “apprenticeship” means something different over there.  As I pointed out back here, the reason places like Germany have more apprentices is because their set of apprenticeable trades is much wider than ours.  If you limit the analysis to just skilled trades, Canada’s apprentice numbers actually look about the same as Germany’s (our completion rates are much lower – but that’s a less sexy story).

As for “vocational education” and “polytechnics” (terms that are not synonyms): Canada already has the largest non-university tertiary system on the planet.   True, we don’t have a lot of “polytechnics”, but the recent trend in GCE has been to turn these institutions into degree-granting “Universities of Applied Science” with professional rather than vocational orientations.  So yes, GCEs’ technical education systems are different from ours.  But their sources of strength aren’t necessarily in “vocational” training the way we define it.

With respect to unemployment rates, it’s quite true that unemployment among 15-24 year-olds in places like Germany (8.1%), Austria (8.7%) and Switzerland (2.8%) are lower than in Canada (13.6%).  But youth unemployment can’t be examined in isolation: it is a function of overall economic conditionsThe ratios of youth unemployment to overall unemployment tell a different story: Canada’s rate is 1.92, Austria’s 1.85, Germany’s 1.53 and Switzerland’s a freakish 1.04.  Austria’s purported advantage, at least, disappears completely on this more sensible comparison

Finally, the issue of causation.  Dial things back about twelve years; Germany had the same “dual” system of apprenticeships, but unemployment rates were twice what they are now.  If apprenticeships “cause” low unemployment now, did they also “cause” high unemployment twelve years ago?  Obviously not.  Claiming causation in one period but not another looks like cherry-picking.

In short, it’s good to invest in top-notch technical education, but be wary of over-ambitious claims made about its impacts.