An unaffordable fringe of society? The Matthew effect in dual-vocational education and training programmes for disadvantaged youth in Switzerland


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PhD thesis: a PhD thesis.
An unaffordable fringe of society? The Matthew effect in dual-vocational education and training programmes for disadvantaged youth in Switzerland
Pisoni Delia
Bonoli Giuliano
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Université de Lausanne, Faculté de droit, des sciences criminelles et d'administration publique
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That the most disadvantaged individuals profit less from social policy schemes when compared to their less-disadvantaged counterparts may sound counterintuitive, yet this is what research in social policies on a phenomenon called the Matthew effect describes since the mid-1970s. In her dissertation, Delia Pisoni aims to investigate the reasons and mechanisms leading to such an effect through an in-depth analysis of two case studies. With a more micro and mainly inductive approach, she wishes to contribute to the existing literature which has taken a mainly macro approach, and to investigate deeper, more hidden, and perhaps also unexpected mechanisms and reasons leading to a Matthew effect. The main data source are semi-structured interviews with key actors (60 interviews with 63 persons), complemented with desk research of primary and secondary sources.
The chosen policy field are dual-Vocational Education and Training (dual-VET, or apprenticeship) programmes for disadvantaged youth in Switzerland. Indeed, with a social investment approach, since the mid-90s public money is increasingly invested into people to support their (re)integration into labour markets, with human capital investments being an important tool for social investment policies. Moreover, post-compulsory education is key to labour market integration in knowledge economies, and dual-VET seems to ease the school-to-work transition. However, it is crucial that such policies reach out particularly to the most disadvantaged youth. Indeed, the most disadvantaged face the greatest insertion difficulties, being in greatest need of support. Moreover, unemployment spells at young age may cause ‘scarring-effects’ that negatively affect youth’s labour market integration on a long term. Matthew effects in dual-VET programmes for disadvantaged youth might, therefore, have particularly detrimental and long-term repercussions on welfare states and individual well-being. From an individual perspective, this translates into missing out on life-chances and worse integration prospects for the most vulnerable and most in-need individuals. From a societal perspective, it translates into significant long-term expenditures in terms of social benefits and forgone public revenue.
Consequently, from a theoretical perspective, to avoid Matthew effects in this policy field should be politically highly salient. Yet, on the contrary, the empirical findings carried out in this research have shown that the Matthew effect may not result as a mere side effect of policy making, but may be a triggered effect, serving policy makers as a vent-valve to cope with the existing cost-containment context. Indeed, the most disadvantaged youth were creamed-off in one programme—more resources were invested in the youth already closer to the apprenticeship-market—or defined out in the other—the most disadvantaged youth were excluded by the definition of the target group. More generally, the Matthew effect was a strategy to select the ‘good risks’ at the entrance of the programmes. Indeed, to reach positive results was key to keep the financial allocation to the measures. Consequently, it allowed the programmes’ survival in the given context of cost-containment. To conclude, this study adds to the evidence that, in contexts of tight public budgets, service oriented modern Welfare States tread a fine line between empowering and prioritising beneficiaries.
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03/11/2021 12:31
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21/11/2022 9:19
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