In addition to directing resources to municipal adult education programmes (Komvux), the government also plans to create an additional 2,000 upper-secondary school (gymnasium) spaces for students wishing to pursue vocational training, and a special college for post-secondary vocational education.
The plans were announced on Monday by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, along with fellow party leaders Maud Olofsson, Jan Björklund, and Göran Hägglund, in an article published in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.
A trial featuring increased apprenticeships has already been launched, and interest has been so great that the government plans to expand the programme in 2008 and 2009.
The expansion will include 1,000 new places for beginners, along with another 1,000 spots for the following academic year.
In explaining the government’s reasons for investing in vocational training, education minister Björklund explained that for too long Sweden has focused only on academic training.
“Society doesn’t work if everyone is an academic. We need to once again concentrate on vocational training in Sweden. For 20 years, vocational education hasn’t been prioritized; only theoretical and academic [programmes] have been prioritized in high schools,” he said to the TT news agency.
“More Komvux places ought to be used to expand the number of vocational courses as well as offer the possibility to change from an academic course of study to the option of attaining a vocationally-oriented high school qualification.”
Björklund emphasized that his statements shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that there too many students are pursuing academic courses of study at Swedish colleges and universities.
“But there are too few who pursue vocational training and that isn’t a zero-sum game, because in the mean time there are many who end up on the margins and knocked out. If you’ve turned 20, you can easily train to be a journalist or historian, but it’s hard to find an educational programme to be a construction worker or a nursing assistant,” he told TT.
The government’s proposed vocational college is set to start on July 1st, 2009.
The timing of the push to expand vocational training is related to the fact that Sweden is now entering a period of lower economic growth.
When there are fewer jobs, more workers choose to go back to school to acquire new skills.
But Marie Granlund, a social democratic member of the Riksdag’s education committee, isn’t very impressed by the government’s proposal.
“It’s too little, too late. A new vocational college would have already be in place if Björklund hadn’t stopped the inquiry and a new modern apprentice programme would also have been a reality in the autumn of 2007,” she said.
The Social Democrats also claim that the centre-right governing parties aren't committing enough money.
“It’s only in 2012 when you get back up to the number of Komvux spaces which were reduced in 2006. It’s shameful,” said Granlund.
But Granlund was also careful to clarify that she isn’t advocating for an increase in vocational training at the expense of places in academic courses of study.
“One needs to have both. But what’s being done by the centre-right government is that they are sahing that those who want to be bus drivers or nursing assistants don’t need to study Swedish or English. We’re saying the exact opposite, as is the business community and Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO),” she explained.