Economics of Education University of Geneva (2006–2014)

Transitions, Skills and Labour

Run by Professor Yves Flückiger (University of Geneva), this Leading House has worked closely with the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (HES-SO). Its projects all focus on analysing the transition from lower-secondary to upper-secondary education as well as the transition from upper-secondary to tertiary-level education or to working life.

The first component of research, headed by Dr Jean-Marc Falter, looked at transition issues within the education system, from lower secondary to tertiary level, and the cumulative impact of the decisions taken by young people. Based mainly on data taken from the survey «Transitions from Education to Employment (TREE)», the results suggest that the socio-demographic status of a child's parents is a major factor at each transition in the school system and affects in particular the choice between vocational and general education and the pupils in the middle of the distribution. Furthermore, the pathways towards tertiary level are highly differentiated from a gender standpoint, producing a high level of occupational segregation within the Swiss VPET system; these differentiated pathways are mainly caused by the fact that men and women behave differently and not by business practices as such.

The second component of research looked at the school-to-work transition and examined the impact of training on salary as well as the return on investment in education and training. The results suggest that the salary profile of employees who receive a general education is more sharply inclined than those who undergo VET and PET. This difference is mainly due to tertiary education, since the age-salary profiles of both groups, those with a general secondary education and those with vocational education and training, are similar. The pathway leading to a Federal Vocational Baccalaureate followed by enrolment in a Swiss university of applied sciences (UAS) should be able to prevent human capital acquired in upper-secondary level VET from becoming obsolete.

The second research project run within the Leading House and headed by Professor José V. Ramirez looked at transitions towards and within upper-secondary level in the Canton of Geneva. Indeed, educational choices made at this stage have numerous implications both on pathways taken within the education system and on the labour market. Empirical analyses were conducted using an exhaustive administrative database. The main questions examined included the impact that selection and grading at lower-secondary level had on transitions to upper-secondary level, whether it be in terms of linearity of these transitions or on the vocational pathway taken by learners. The results suggest that the first transition to upper-secondary level is heterogeneous, determined by the person's migration background and social capital. This result was particularly apparent with regards to transitions towards apprenticeships at upper-secondary level and with transitional solutions or preparatory courses between lower-secondary and upper-secondary level. The age in which pupils are selected (referred to as tracking or streaming) at lower-secondary level has an impact on the linearity of pathways to tertiary-level B programmes. In particular, a one-year delay in selection leads to greater change in pathways, particularly for the least scholastically inclined pupils. Finally, self-selection in apprenticeships is coherent with the selection made by the school system, with pupils streamed to the lowest performance group in lower-secondary school being the main pool principal of apprentices. However, pupils streamed to the highest performance group in lower-secondary school who decide to enrol in a VET programme tend to accumulate more years of training and pursue more linear vocational pathways. Finally, pupils who have a more internal locus of control, all other things being equal, are less likely to find themselves with more limited options at the end of lower-secondary school. This is particularly true for those who wish to enrol in upper-secondary level VET.