Equality of opportunity in the MBO

Part 1: Focus on a good starting position for all MBO students

The Minister of Education, Culture and Science previously introduced measures and made extra funding available to help achieve equal opportunities for students in vocational (MBO) education. For the coming years, and on top of the existing MBO budget, an extra €4 billion is now being provided to improve equality of opportunity, among other things. A Court of Audit investigation has found, however, that it is unclear as to whether the current policy is actually helping to reduce inequality of opportunity.

Neither the minister nor the MBO institutions are able to establish whether the various measures are actually benefiting the most vulnerable young people. The Court of Audit spoke to MBO students, tutors, policy officers and managers, as well as to employers offering internships, as detailed in the report Gelijke kansen in het middelbaar beroepsonderwijs: deel I (Equal Opportunities in Intermediate Vocational Education, Part I), published on 12 September 2023.

Almost half a million MBO students

It is not clear how many of the over 484,000 MBO students face unequal opportunities, partly because of the major differences in their educational levels, backgrounds and other characteristics. Back in 2016, however, the Inspector of Education found that children of parents with lower incomes, lower levels of education or a migration background were more likely to experience inequality of opportunity in education.

Extra support for students varies from programme to programme

The Court of Audit’s investigation found that whether students got the extra support they needed varied, depending on the institution and, in practice, also on individual tutors, mentors and internship coordinators. This was confirmed by students themselves, but also by teaching staff and work placement organisations. And these differences can mean that some vocational students’ weaker starting position, whether because of their home situation or otherwise, simply persists. The Court of Audit spoke to 310 students, who regularly indicated that teaching staff took little if any action in response to their signalling of internship discrimination or a lack of employer guidance and support during work placements. Students also reported finding it difficult to report such issues. 

Weak foundations make it harder for students to find the most suitable education. And that makes their whole school career more challenging.

Figuur publicatie mbo

Differences between and within MBO institutions are possible, given that institutions are free to spend their budgets as they see fit and also to determine their approach and the resources they devote to reducing inequality. Over the past four years, and on top of the normal annual budget of €3.9 billion, the minister has made an extra €1.6 billion available for promoting greater equality of opportunities. For the next few years the minister is now proposing extra funding of over €4 billion to help MBO institutions improve aspects such as equality of opportunity.

Which groups is the minister’s policy designed to help?

The minister has not clearly described what he understands by equality of opportunity, nor the groups of students that his measures and the additional funds are intended to help. It is also unclear whether these measures and funds are being used for these and other vulnerable students, and whether they have actually helped them. As a result, neither the minister nor the MBO institutions’ boards can be certain about what helps students to find education programmes and internships that suit them and that they are able to complete successfully.

Data used in our investigation

As well as analysing data on MBO student entries, exits and transfers, we examined central government policy and conducted numerous interviews with those involved, and also visited seven MBO institutions.

Current position

This is part 1 of the investigation into equality of opportunity in the MBO. It was published earlier than initially scheduled because of the collapse of the governing coalition and the early elections for the House of Representatives. Bringing this publication forward will enable Parliament to make use of the findings.

The full and far more detailed report of our investigation is expected in February 2024 and will include more information on the data analyses and on employers’ views on internships, as well as discussing possible opportunities for improving the policy, based on a series of recommendations. 

Letter to the MBO institutions and MBO Council

Along with this publication of 12 September, we are writing to the MBO Council and all MBO institutions to advise them of various aspects to take into account when seeking to create greater equality of opportunity in the years to 2027. The institutions have to submit their quality agendas to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science – focusing, among other things, on equal opportunities – by 1 October 2023. 

Any feedback on this investigation?

We welcome any feedback on our investigations. What do you think of this report? If you have any questions or want any further information, please e-mail us at feedback@rekenkamer.nl. You can be sure that we will read all e-mails carefully.