Firms' Increasing Control over Practice-Oriented Higher Education Programs: A Comparative Analysis of France, Germany, and the U.S.

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
TW1.1.04 (Tower One)
Lukas Graf, University of Luxembourg, Walferdange, Luxembourg
The paper offers a historical-comparative analysis of France, Germany, and the U.S. to illustrate how firms have sought new ways of cooperating with postsecondary educational institutions to secure their hold on high-level firm-specific skills. While previously the direct engagement of firms in the organization of work-based educational programs was mainly confined to the secondary level, especially large firms are now increasingly shifting their training activity to the higher education level (Graf et al., 2014). For firms it is more and more difficult to recruit talented persons for their secondary-level work-based programs, as young people are increasingly striving for higher education certificates as a result of both risen skill requirements in the service and knowledge economy and a trend towards credentialist inflation. Who are the winners, who are the losers of this continuous 'upgrading' process? What are the implications for social inequality as firms are gaining more influence in controlling access to expanding practice-oriented higher education programs? The paper builds on historical institutionalism (e.g., Mahoney and Thelen, 2010; Busemeyer and Trampusch, 2012) and applies systematic process tracing (Hall, 2008) to compare remarkably similar developments in the three distinct skill formation systems of France, Germany, and the U.S. over the past 15 years. Next to document analysis, the study primarily relies on numerous expert interviews carried out in both Europe and the U.S. The process tracing identifies how modes of gradual institutional change, such as layering, conversion, and drift, are getting interlinked in firms' attempts to shape a more firm-specific – and in the German case also less collectively standardized (Graf, 2013) – vocational skills provision based at the postsecondary academic level. This has significant socio-economic consequences not only with regard to the portability of skills across firms and industries but also in terms of the degree of equality of educational opportunity in access to higher education programs.


Busemeyer, M. R. & Trampusch, C. (Eds.) (2012) The Political Economy of Collective Skill Formation, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Graf, L. (2013) The Hybridization of Vocational Training and Higher Education in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, Opladen, Budrich UniPress.

Graf, L., Powell, J.J.W., Fortwengel, J. & Bernhard, N. (2014) Dual Study Programmes in Global Context: Internationalisation in Germany and Transfer to Brazil, France, Qatar, Mexico and the US. Dok&Mat 77.Bonn, DAAD.

Hall, P. A. (2008) Systematic Process Analysis: When and How to Use it. European Political Science,7: 304-317.

Mahoney, J. & Thelen, K. (2010) Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency, and Power, New York, Cambridge University Press.