In this ‘at a glance’ publication from the OECD, they seek to spotlight VET’s role, particularly in upper secondary education.

It notes that:

“The organisation and structure of vocational education vary considerably from one country to another. Approaches range from not having a differentiated vocational track in initial upper secondary education at all, to having most students in upper secondary education pursuing vocational programmes often with the option to choose between several vocational tracks.”

However, “on average, one-third of 25-34 year-olds in OECD countries have a vocational qualification as their highest level achieved, either at upper secondary, post-secondary non-tertiary or short-cycle tertiary level.”

In essence, therefore, it’s about what goes on in upper secondary, along with post completion pathways.

The publication raises and attempts to answer a range of issues

Learning pathways

The paper notes that access to tertiary education matters,

“both to make VET programmes attractive and to allow VET graduates to further develop their skills or change career paths. About three-quarters of upper secondary vocational students are pursuing programmes that yield direct access to tertiary education. In most cases this means eligibility for all types of tertiary education, but in some countries, access is limited to short-cycle tertiary education or to some applied, professionally oriented bachelor’s programmes. In many countries, learners also have the option of following a bridging programme at upper secondary level to gain access to tertiary studies.”


The research found that “learners from less advantaged social backgrounds tend to be over-represented in vocational programmes.” Female students are also underrepresented.

Completion patterns

The research found that “a smaller share of those enrolled in upper secondary vocational education complete their programme within its theoretical duration (62%) than those in general education (77%).”

Labour market benefits

It was also found that “acquiring an upper secondary vocational qualification reduces the risk of unemployment in all countries, and facilitates access to employment.” However, “Upper secondary VET graduates are less likely to continue in education than their peers from general programmes.”


“As they often require specific equipment and infrastructure, vocational education and training programmes typically cost more per student than general programmes.”

In addition, the VET teaching workforce in upper secondary education is aging, and the teacher student ratios are less favourable than for general programmes.