Perceptions field-based and institutional perceptions of quality in vocational education and training

This thesis explored the notion of quality as it is perceived by the various actors involved in dual-track vocational education and training (VET) in the French-speaking region of Switzerland.

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This PhD was part of an SNSF-funded project ‘How is the quality of upper-secondary-level VET understood by its players, and how does it influence learner commitment? An analysis of the various learning locations and the development of a scientifically-based assessment tool’.

The thesis examined the relationship, differences and similarities between quality concepts perceived by two groups of actors: those who are directly involved in VET 'in the field' (learners, vocational school teachers, workplace trainers); and the institutional stakeholders (e.g. representatives of cantonal VET offices and professional organisations) that establish and monitor compliance with VET principles. The aim is to identify and describe the various perceptions of quality of VET in the field and to highlight possible similarities and differences with respect to the requirements established by institutional stakeholders.

This thesis was also intended to critically assess whether the interaction between classroom instruction and workplace training improve the quality of VET. This combination of theory and practice is a salient feature of Swiss dual-track VET programmes. Indeed, this alternation between school and workplace offers the possibility of more complete training, anchored in both theory and practice, while facilitating the transition to working life at the same time. However, the dual-track approach can also make it more difficult for learners to correlate their different experiences at three different learning locations (vocational school, training company and branch training courses) and transfer the knowledge gained from one learning location to the other.

Supervisors of the dissertation:

  • Prof. Dr Jean-Louis Berger (University of Fribourg)
  • Dr. Gaële Goastellec (University of Lausanne) 

The theoretical framework is drawn from the fields of education and political science. The methodology is qualitative in nature. The data will be obtained from the replies given to open-ended questions in a questionnaire, from focus group discussions with persons in the field as well as from interviews with institutional stakeholders. Thematic analyses will be used to process the data.


The exploratory approach used in this thesis enabled systematic identification and grouping of the VET quality factors mentioned in the questionnaires and interviews. The broad range of VET quality factors included both formal aspects (e.g. general regulatory conditions affecting VET) and more informal ones (e.g. social interactions). The research also brought to light the importance of several contextual aspects (e.g. reasons prompting learners to pursue VET) that also influence the quality of VET. On the whole, it can be said that both VET professionals in the field and institutional stakeholders tend to agree rather than disagree when it comes to their perceptions of VET quality. One of the key quality factors mentioned in relation to dual-track VET programmes is the distribution of training content across different learning locations (i.e. typically, vocational school, host company and branch training centres). By focusing on linkages between theory and practice and on interaction between VET professionals, it was possible to distinguish between VET professionals who perceive the differences between learning locations as obstacles to learning and those who perceive such differences as opportunities for learning. Given the importance of this aspect in the development of VET quality, this thesis also proposes action steps to better coordinate classroom instruction and workplace training.