Society 08/09/2021

Applicants for VET courses left without a spot to be offered distance learning alternative

There will be an unlimited number of places at the Open Institute of Catalonia, which will have more teachers

3 min
Deciding on a career in the midst of a pandemic

BarcelonaThe Department for Education will resolve the large increase in demand for Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses by removing caps on numbers at the Open Institute of Catalonia (IOC), which only offers distance education. In a press conference for the beginning of the school year, Minister Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray claimed that this way "no student who wants to study a VET course will be left without a spot". This will allow to offer more places on the two courses which received the most applications: micro-IT systems and networks, and auxiliary nursing. The Department for Education believes about 4.000 students would end up taking one of these distance courses.

This measure will be accompanied by two decisions. On the one hand, to cope with the expected increase in students, the IOC's teaching staff will increase, although Cambray has not yet given any numbers. On the other hand, there will be a closer follow-up of students on these courses, a crucial aspect to avoid them dropping out. This is especially relevant as places are allocated according to secondary school grades, meaning those with worst marks will end up on the online courses. Moreover, even when education is presential, VET courses have the highest rate of dropouts in the education system.

An extraordinary call with vacancies and places already announced

All those left without a place at regular VET schools will be allowed to apply to the Open Institute of Catalonia. This week the Department for Education will make 6,539 VET places available to students in an extraordinary call. These are not new places, but the 2,093 vacancies left empty after the first round of enrollments, as well as the 4,215 places already announced in July and the 8 additional groups of the most in-demand degrees announced this Wednesday.

Cambray has insisted that it is necessary to wait to see the final picture before making decisions, because supply and demand tend to balance out in the enrollment process. Thus, there were 52,000 applications for 38,000 places in lower VET courses, which would have left out some 14,000 students. "But there are students who appply both for VET and formal education, and up to 25% were not secondary school students; they were over 20 years old, and perhaps they have changed their mind or have found work," said Cambray. For whatever reason, 3,700 students who already had a place have not ended up enrolling, that is, 11.4%, which has generated vacancies. When the 6,000+ places in this extraordinary call are awarded (between vacancies and new groups), some 4,000 students may still not have a place at VET schools, and could be offered a place at the IOC.

Upper VET, however, will be different. According to Cambray, there has also been a lot more demand than supply, but in this case the department will act as universities do: a place will not necessarily be guaranteed for all applicants. "Quotas will balance supply and demand, but without increasing supply," he said, without specifying how this will be done. More than 4,000 students who had a place in these courses in the end did not enrol.

Changes in the following courses

Cambray has promised that for the following academic year, 2022-23, changes will be made to the procedure and the pre-enrolment and enrolment calendars will be moved forward to better adapt supply and demand, and also "it will improve" students' careers guidance. The truth is that the boom in enrolments for vocational training caught the Department of Education off guard. To decide the educational offer, the Department always takes into account the number of students in the last year of secondary school and the birth rate in previous years. Until now it had worked: every year there was an increase of between 1.5% and 2% in vocational training, a manageable figure. But this year the forecasts were blown out of the water and 96,000 people signed up, 23% more than last year. What happened? Where did so many applicants come from? According to the Department, there has been a very large increase of over-20s who were not in the formal education system and who, affected by the pandemic and furlough, decided to go back to training. Between 25% and 30% of applicants to these courses were over 20, when normally these places are occupied by 16-17-year-olds straight out of secondary school.

Fewer students in infant, primary and, for the first time, secondary school

All of this, in a school year in which only vocational training will increase its number of students, which in the whole system will be 1,561,627. There will be 6,000 fewer students in infant education, 9,500 fewer in primary education and 3,800 fewer in secondary education, an unprecedented figure because the number of students in secondary education is falling for the first time, and the figure will remain stable in baccalaureate.

On the other hand, there will be 1,200 more professionals in schools, including teachers or administrative and service staff, among other figures, which will join the 8,000 covid reinforcements already hired last year, who will continue this year. These new contracts will make up the staff of the 21 new state schools (5 newly created, 11 comprehensives school and 5 entering the state network). The department has said that from 2018 until now it has gone from 34% of staff being on temporary contracts to 24%, and it has assured that by 2024 it will already under 10%.