Center on International Education Benchmarking

Netherlands: Career and Technical Education

Overview | Learning Systems | Teacher and Principal Quality
Supporting Equity | Career and Technical Education | Governance and Accountability

The Netherlands has a strong Career and Technical Education (CTE) system, with more than half of students enrolling at the secondary level, and an increasing set of post-secondary and degree options after that. In 2016, the rate of young people in the Netherlands neither in employment nor education or training (NEET) was only 7.8 percent, the second lowest in the EU. The employment rate of recent CTE graduates was 87 percent, above the EU average of 75 percent.

System Structure

About one-half of Dutch students choose career and technical education in lower secondary school. After two years of general education in a broad range of subjects, students in this pathway choose one of four program types, which vary in the amount of instructional time devoted to academic versus technical courses and the level of rigor of the academic courses. For example, students in the “theoretical program” take mostly academic courses at the highest level of rigor, while students in the “basic vocational program” take more technical courses, and their academic courses are at a slightly lower level of rigor. Students in the theoretical program specialize in one of four sectors: Care and Welfare, Engineering and Technology, Business, or Agriculture. Students in the remaining programs, all of which focus more on technical coursework, choose from a list of 10 sectors, such as Media, Design, and IT. After two years of study in their chosen sector, students from all programs must pass a final examination before receiving their secondary vocational diploma. More than 75 percent of secondary vocational graduates go on to upper secondary vocational education. Students who have completed enough academic coursework may also choose to transfer to upper secondary general education. About one-fifth of vocational graduates do this, but only three-quarters of those who do ultimately earn general education diplomas. Other vocational graduates go directly to work.

Upper secondary vocational education is offered at vocational schools, regional training centers, and agricultural training centers and leads to four levels of qualifications. Students’ secondary vocational program type determines which upper secondary vocational qualification levels they can pursue. Upper secondary vocational programs range from about one to four years, depending on qualifications earned. Students choose between school-based programs, which are between 20 percent and 60 percent practical experience, and work-based programs, which are more than 60 percent practical experience. Students who earn the highest-level upper secondary vocational qualifications can continue to practically oriented higher education at universities of applied sciences.

Current Reforms

Recent reforms to CTE have focused on reducing dropout rates in programs, smoothing transitions from secondary vocational training to the workforce or higher education, and improving the quality of vocational teachers.

In 2018, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science announced plans to expand combined lower secondary and upper secondary vocational programs. These programs allow lower secondary vocational students to start or complete an initial upper secondary qualification while still enrolled at the lower secondary school. The government has also made funding for upper secondary students more flexible. Previously, students who took longer than expected to complete an upper secondary vocational qualification received reduced government funding during the additional years; beginning in 2019, funding no longer depends on length of time in programs. This change in funding also removes the incentive for schools to discourage some students from pursuing more challenging courses.

As of 2016, vocational schools are required to develop plans indicating how they will improve work-based learning options, as a strategy to help students be more prepared to transition into the workplace. In addition, the government has established an independent advisory commission to monitor the connections between vocational education programs and local labor markets, and required vocational programs to make public comprehensive information on program quality and employment outcomes. In 2017, the government committed €100 million (approximately US$123 million) per year to improve the quality of technology education in lower secondary vocational programs.

Finally, the government introduced new subject matter knowledge and educational competency requirements for practical training instructors – those with industry experience who teach vocationally-oriented subjects – at upper secondary vocational schools, beginning in 2018. The government has also pushed for more CTE teachers to study for master’s degrees, which can lead to more responsibility and pay, by offering scholarships for in-service teachers.

*18-24 year-olds not in education, employment or training
Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2019

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