Social Inclusion and Equality in Access: Comparing Vocational Education in Sweden and Denmark

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


The formation of a comprehensive public school system with no dead ends has been central to the Nordic welfare states’ efforts to reduce social inequality in education. The unified compulsory ”school for all” was realised along similar lines in all Nordic countries for primary and lower secondary schools in the period up to the 1990s. However, significant differences emerged at the upper secondary level, as the struggle over the unification of the vocational and general programmes turned out differently in these countries. In Sweden, a comprehensive upper secondary school was established with the aim of providing all young people equal opportunities to gain access to higher education. In Denmark, a strong division was maintained in upper secondary education between the gymnasiums, which prepare for higher education, and vocational education, which prepares for skilled employment. As these two countries constitute the most diverging varieties of governance and organisation of upper secondary vocational education, this chapter explores their implications for social justice and equality.
The comparison of the two countries examines the main reforms since the early 1990s and identifies some unintended consequences of these reforms. These consequences indicate a conflict between two political aims of universal access. One aim is to ensure that all young people have opportunities to gain access to higher education. The other is to provide all young people with opportunities to complete upper secondary education and gain access to working life. This represents a dilemma for education policy, which has been managed differently in Sweden and Denmark with different implications for young peoples’ post-secondary opportunities. Some recent reforms in the two Nordic countries aiming to transcend this dilemma are considered.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGovernance and Choice of Upper Secondary Education in the Nordic Countries : Access and Fairness
EditorsAnnette Rasmussen, Marianne Dovemark
Number of pages18
Publication date2022
ISBN (Print)978-3-031-08048-7
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-031-08049-4
Publication statusPublished - 2022
SeriesEducational Governance Research


  • Social justice
  • Vocational education and training
  • Education policy
  • Social inclusion
  • Nordic countries
  • Educational governance

Cite this