Competence provided by VET in relation to the requirements of studies at universities of applied sciences
Almost half of the new students at universities of applied sciences (UAS) have graduated from a vocational school. In the context of UAS studies, these students’ strengths include industry-specific competence, work experience and workplace skills. Deficiencies in the students’ competence are typically related to communication skills, foreign languages and mathematics. However, universities of applied sciences provide diverse support to their students, and students who hold a vocational qualification are successful in their higher education studies.
Between 2022 and 2023, FINEEC evaluated the competences provided by vocational education and training (VET) in relation to the requirements of universities of applied sciences (UAS). Increasing the population’s level of education has been a long-standing objective of Finland’s education policy. Achieving this requires that more VET graduates continue to higher education in the future. The evaluation aimed to promote pathways from VET to higher education.
Evaluation questions were:
- What kind of capacities for further studies does VET leading to a qualification provide?
- What kind of competences and capabilities does VET produce in relation to the requirements of UAS studies? Strengths and enhancement areas.
- How is the creation of the competence and capabilities required in UAS studies supported in vocational institutions?
- How do UASs support the development of competence of their students who have completed a vocational qualification and the progress of these students in their studies? Strengths and enhancement areas.
- What factors promote and prevent the development of capacities for further studies and progress in UAS studies for students who have completed a vocational qualification?
- How does cooperation between VET providers and UASs work?
Conclusions and development recommendations
Universities of applied sciences are a popular choice among VET graduates
Students who hold a vocational qualification are eligible to apply to both universities and universities of applied sciences. Currently, nearly half of the new students at universities of applied sciences have completed a vocational qualification. In certain fields, such as health and welfare, as well as technology, the proportion of new students with a vocational qualification is more than half.
There is a widely shared understanding of the skills required in higher education studies
For the most part, VET providers and UASs agree on the essential skills and knowledge needed in higher education studies. These include study skills and communication skills, e.g. writing and reading skills, as well as proficiency in foreign languages and mathematics. Furthermore, VET providers highlight that vocational education and training provides students with industry-specific competence that supports students’ ability to succeed in further studies.
UASs should recognise the industry-specific competence provided by vocational education and training more broadly as a factor that increases students’ ability to succeed in further studies, and such competence should be taken into account when planning individual study paths. Currently, when creating personal study plans for students, universities of applied sciences do not consistently enquire about students’ existing competence that may be relevant in terms of their UAS studies.
Vocational competence is a strength - skills in mathematics need improvement
The evaluation indicated that, in the context of UAS studies, the strength of individuals with a vocational qualification lies in their vocational competence. In addition, their strengths include work experience and workplace skills, and some students also have strong study skills. Deficiencies in competence are related to communication skills, such as reading and writing, proficiency in mathematics and, in some cases, study skills. However, universities of applied sciences offer various forms of support, such as workshops and courses, to help students succeed in their studies.
In order to support students' skills for further study, VET providers should plan how to support the development of these skills. At present, almost half of the providers have not described in the document guiding their pedagogical activities how they support the development of knowledge and skills required in further studies. They also need to ensure that students receive education that aligns with their goals. In particular, there is room for improvement in the teaching of the common units of qualifications focusing on general competences.
Statistics show that those with a vocational qualification tend to graduate from universities of applied sciences slightly faster compared to students who have completed general upper secondary education. However, some VET students lack confidence in their potential to study at a university of applied sciences. It seems that the reality and assumptions regarding VET graduates’ ability to succeed in UAS studies differ to some extent.
- VET providers should ensure that the teaching students receive in common units aligns with the students’ goals.
- VET providers should ensure that career guidance for students includes ongoing support for further studies as an integral component, alongside guidance for employment. In addition, students planning to enter the workforce should be reminded that they also have the option to pursue higher education at a later stage.
- To ensure the quality of teaching, VET providers should describe how they support the development of knowledge and skills required in further studies as part of common units, vocational units, further vocational qualifications and specialist vocational qualifications. This description should be included in the document guiding the VET provider’s pedagogical activities. When drawing up the personal competence development plan, a plan should also be made for building the competences necessary for further studies.
Universities of applied sciences
- UASs should take the students’ existing vocational competence into account when planning individual study paths.
- UASs should develop their approach to making personal study plans to consistently identify students' competences acquired through vocational education and training, employment or other means.
- All UASs should establish procedures for identifying missing competences needed to complete studies and developing these competences. It is recommended that UASs work in collaboration with VET providers when developing such procedures.
VET providers and universities of applied sciences
- In terms of pathway studies, universities of applied sciences and VET providers should work together to set responsibilities for guidance and define the forms of support offered during the studies, ensuring students receive the support and guidance they need to complete their studies successfully.
Finnish National Agency for Education, VET providers, universities of applied sciences
- Increasing the percentage of young people with a higher education degree is a national objective. This requires that more VET students see higher education as an option for them. To achieve this objective, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Finnish National Agency for Education, VET providers and universities of applied sciences must work together.
Implementation of the evaluation
The results are based on surveys which were aimed at VET providers and universities of applied sciences. Student workshops were also organised to gather data from UAS students, and results of surveys conducted by other parties, as well as statistics and register data, were also utilised in the evaluation. The initial conclusions and recommendations were refined with stakeholders in a development webinar before finalising them.
An evaluation team with multiple perspectives was appointed to support the experts at FINEEC in the implementation of the evaluation.
- Maija Aaltola, Principal, Joint Authority of Education in Espoo Region Omnia
- Ari-Pekka Anttila, Education Director, Ammattiopisto Luovi, (until 31.7.2023 Senior Specialist, Tampere University of Applied Sciences)
- Hannele Keränen, Director, Lapland University of Applied Sciences
- Niina Nurkka, Senior Evaluation Adviser, Finnish Education Evaluation Centre.
- Saila Peteri, Sector Manager, Lapland Education Centre REDU
- Kari Ranta, Guidance Counselling Coordinator, Savo Vocational College
- Sini Riihimäki, Community Educator (BHum) student, Humak University of Applied Sciences
- Annika Stadius, Director, Arcada University of Applied Sciences
- Mika Tammilehto, Principal Research Scientist, Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK)
Publication and press release
- Transitioning from VET to universities of applied sciences – an evaluation of the competences provided by vocational education and training in relation to the requirements of studies at universities of applied sciences (summary in English)
- Press release: VET provides skills required in higher education – students' vocational competence should be recognised more broadly at universities of applied sciences
Other material produced in the evaluation
As part of the evaluation, FINEEC has produced various summaries and summarized good practices from VET providers and universities of applied sciences. All materials have been published in Finnish, some also in Swedish. You can find them here:
Surveys for universities of applied sciences
For more information about the evaluation, please contact
FINEEC’s other evaluations examining transitions from one educational level to another:
- Smooth transitions – Evaluation of the functioning of study paths leading from vocational education and training to universities of applied sciences and cooperation between educational levels (Abstract in English)
- Evaluation of the new forms of student counselling (OHJA) 2022–2024
- Evaluation of student transitions and smooth study paths
- IIEP-UNESCO project on flexible learning pathways in higher education 2018–2022
- Immigrants’ educational pathways