Starting with the complexity of qualifications systems in partner countries and problems facing modernisation, the publication sets out specific examples of how qualifications systems have been used to provide a strategic tool for improving the quality of provision and increasing levels of learning. Examples of these strategies include the creation of qualifications bodies; new legal frameworks; the separation of assessment and certification from providers of training; development of NQFs and moves towards an increased use of learning outcomes in curricula; and qualifications and descriptors for framework levels.
About the Author
Jean-Marc Castejon is a senior expert in human capital at the European Training Foundation.
Borhène Chakroun is a senior human capital development specialist at the European Training Foundation.
Mike Coles is a Senior Researcher on Qualifications and Skills. [NP] Arjen Deij is a senior human capital development specialist at the European Training Foundation.
Vincent McBride is a senior human capital development specialist in the Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Unit at the European Training Foundation.
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Developing Qualifications Frameworks in EU Partner Countries
Modernising Education and Training
By Jean-Marc Castejon, Borhène Chakroun, Mike Coles, Arjen Deij, Vincent McBride
Wimbledon Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2011 European Training Foundation
All rights reserved.
The EU's interest in qualifications and in the national infrastructure that supports qualifications has focused on transparency. The complexity of national qualifications systems and the different ways of recognising learning mean that work on transparency is necessary if European unity is to mean something more than the sum of the national systems. A clearer understanding of the qualifications of the citizens of other countries can ease barriers to cross-border mobility for both students and workers.
The first step in developing this understanding and creating transparency was to publish large catalogues of qualifications for each country with explanatory text and references. The need for a simpler international classification of qualifications eventually led through a series of steps to the reference levels of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) (European Parliament, 2008) and the Qualifications Framework for the Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA). Other tools, such as the Europass Portfolio and frameworks for quality assurance (European Commission, 2008), have been useful in communicating and developing trust regarding different national approaches to qualifications.
For many centuries trade organisations (guilds or professional associations) have exercised some control over the right to practise a trade and have defined hierarchies of skills within the trade (e.g. assistant, apprentice, qualified worker, master craftsperson). These hierarchies were the forerunners of sectoral and national qualifications frameworks (see Chapter 2). The universities also set down common patterns of recognising progress within higher academic learning, thus defining another hierarchy of qualifications. Hence, within all national qualifications systems there is a set of implicit qualifications structures that aim to ensure that the supply of skilled labour is available for the trades and to promote advances in human knowledge.
Working and learning play a significant role in defining national and regional cultures and the social identities of individuals and communities. Within the EU the dual processes of Bologna (for harmonising higher education qualifications structures) and Copenhagen (for increasing cooperation in vocational education and training (VET)) have been strong influences on the creation of a European dimension for national social and economic development. Countries neighbouring the EU have a clear interest in relating their national qualifications structures to these European models (Coles and Leney, 2009). It is therefore logical that when priorities for cooperation with the EU are discussed, education and training is high on the agenda.
The European Training Foundation (ETF) has been supporting education and training in many ways since it began its work in 1994. Its mission is to help countries that aspire to join the EU and other transition countries to harness the potential of their human resources through the reform of education, training and labour market systems, since these systems can make a fundamental contribution to increasing prosperity, creating sustainable growth and encouraging social inclusion.
The Copenhagen process, and the way in which it strives to increase the portability of qualifications, has pushed the issue of qualifications frameworks up European education policy agendas. Recent European developments have added urgency to international coordination in this field. With the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in mind, stimulating the debate on qualifications frameworks in countries neighbouring the EU is a logical extension of the EU's internal activities. The ETF helps partner countries to become acquainted with European discussions on and experiences with national qualifications frameworks (NQFs), including the different approaches to these frameworks and the practical implications of developing and implementing them.
Experience shows that frameworks have the potential to improve the formal recognition of knowledge and skills that individuals have acquired. Furthermore, because of the functions that can be attached to them, they may also act as a driving force for broader education and training reform. However, NQFs cannot by themselves guarantee that high-quality VET is being offered. Awareness of the possible advantages of NQFs and an understanding of the risks involved in committing resources to developing an NQF will contribute to well-founded policy decisions. NQFs can be a powerful lever for VET reform within countries, but such frameworks are not easy to develop, nor are they in themselves a solution to all the problems that countries might experience with their vocational education systems.
It was with this balanced view of the potential of qualifications frameworks, set against the reality of the difficulties of improving both the quality and the recognition of learning, that the ETF embarked on a number of different regional (multi-country) or country projects and activities with a focus on NQF development. Not all countries and territories began working on the project at the same time, nor did they work according to a single project model. For some countries the development of an NQF was part of a long-term strategy that had much more important short-term goals, for example the development of occupational standards in tourism. The project has evolved to incorporate initiatives relating to qualifications framework development, for example to give more prominence to learning outcomes than programme delivery.
1.1 A Short History of Country Involvement in the NQF Project
The partner countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus have participated in the NQF project since 2005. The objectives were to support the national education and training reform debate using national qualifications as a strategic framework for discussion, and to facilitate policy learning about the opportunities and risks relating to the development of NQFs. The results achieved have included awareness of the international debate on qualifications frameworks; an understanding of the context-specific nature of framework design; the creation of platforms for regional cooperation and the exchange of experience; the provision of initial technical and professional capacities for NQF design; and the development of a basic consensus among key stakeholders within individual countries on the policy to be adopted towards the development of qualifications frameworks.
Each country team in the project consisted of officials from the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Labour and employers' representatives from a pilot sector, with one member acting as a national coordinator. The three to four year implementation period has produced a number of developments. For example, Armenia has included NQF development as part of the EU-funded VET sector programme, and Georgia has adopted a VET qualifications law. Kazakhstan has made the NQF a part of its education development plan. Kyrgyzstan has done the same, and has already redesigned its tourism qualifications. In Tajikistan the project initiated the establishment of a national association of employers in tourism and of training provision in the sector. All the country teams drafted NQF policy papers during the period 2007 — 2008. There were also failures: Uzbekistan withdrew from the NQF project in 2007.
The ETF's activities in Russia accelerated in 2003, with the cooperation of the Centre for VET Studies and the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Owners. This cooperation led to the development of new occupational standards and, based on these, new pilot VET curricula. Soon after the success of the initial work, the Union of Employers took steps of its own to establish a national qualifications agency, which now, under government licence, approves all new occupational standards. Another group of Russian experts under the Ministry of Education put forward an NQF development proposal in 2007. In Ukraine the work on new occupational standards started in 2006, in close cooperation with Russian experts, and the ETF also supported the development of an NQF policy paper and a draft qualifications law. During the past two years the Russian experts have been assisting other country teams through the ETF project.
In all of the Mediterranean partner countries, including Turkey, the ETF project started in 2005. The purpose was to raise awareness in these countries of the issues at stake in NQF development and to select a few countries that were ready to embark on a deeper approach to qualifications frameworks. Years 2 and 3 of the project continued in Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. A national coordinator helped to form a national task force made up of the main stakeholders. This task force was in charge of designing a 'vision' and corresponding steps for action.
An initial step was to organise a peer review in each country whereby the national situation was analysed and a review report produced with a number of recommendations. This enabled policy learning between the countries. Study visits were organised to the Netherlands and Estonia (from Central Asia), to Italy and Spain (from the Caucasus), and to Ireland, Hungary and Scotland.
The achievements of the project again have been variable. For example, in Tunisia the NQF is included in the new VET law, while in Jordan the NQF is part of the national strategy and will be supported by the EU from 2010. In Morocco the project has received strong political support, since Morocco has signed an agreement that grants it a 'privileged position' with the EU. The project has been a preparation for planned VET reform that is supported by EU funding in the countries concerned.
1.2 NQF Developments from the Perspective of EU Accession
The NQF project started on a regional basis in the partner countries of South Eastern Europe in 2003. Its aim was to explore the NQF concept in the context of VET reform discussions. This was the first ETF initiative to systematically address the development of qualifications frameworks. The ETF had previously focused its attention on the development of VET qualifications and VET standards.
In view of the specific national needs of the countries of the Western Balkans, the ETF decided to continue on a country-by-country basis. The ETF national NQF projects had four common objectives:
to raise awareness;
to build capacity;
to identify potential recipients of EU assistance;
to help to develop national strategies.
In most countries the NQF became part of policy discussions that produced diverse achievements. In Croatia work began on implementing the country's own NQF concept, supported by the ETF in a facilitation role. In Albania and Montenegro the ongoing debate contributed to targeted EU assistance for NQF design, and the situation was similar in Serbia, where a group of national experts also published an informative brochure entitled 'NQF for European Serbia'. Turkey has been working towards an NQF system for adults. In September 2006 it adopted a law on its new framework and the ETF has been supporting the newly established Turkish Vocational Qualification Authority in its strategic planning.
In some of the new EU member states the ETF had already contributed to the development of qualifications systems or frameworks for VET prior to their accession. In Malta the ETF provided advice on the process of establishing a national qualifications council in 2002. During the period 2002 — 2005 in Romania the ETF was involved in setting up the NQF for VET and adult learning. Slovenia's National Qualification System was established in 2000 with the support of a Phare project that was developed and managed by the ETF. Estonia established its national framework for VET qualifications (Kutsekoda) in 2001.
1.3 NQFs in EU Countries
During the same period of time that the NQF project has been running, EU member states have also been advancing their understanding and use of qualifications frameworks. This advancement is discussed in detail in Chapter 7. The start of the NQF project in 2003-2005 coincided with the publication of reference levels for an EQF (Coles and Oates, 2004). In the relatively short period of time since 2003 the European Commission has overseen the rapid development of qualifications frameworks in almost all of the 32 countries that are part of the Education and Training 2010 programme. The coordination of the timescales of ETF activity and EU activity has produced an opportunity for policy learning that has helped ETF partner countries enormously (Grootings and Neilsen, 2008).
1.4 Obstacles to Increasing the Volume and Quality of Learning
Partner countries face a range of problems in relation to increasing the volume and quality of learning and its recognition. These obstacles are discussed in detail in Chapter 5, but in outline they include the following:
historical barriers to democratic processes;
instability as a result of the transition to a market economy;
the absence of strong professional associations;
a weak education and training infrastructure;
poor legal underpinning for reform;
demographics, especially the emigration of young and skilled people;
Within education and training some of the countries face more specific problems, such as:
poor administrative management and coordination;
poor physical infrastructure;
poorly paid teachers;
weaknesses in the training of teachers;
inertia based on outdated practices in provider institutions;
the challenge of developing social partnership;
ineffective quality assurance systems;
low levels of interaction between education and training and the labour market;
low status of VET;
low levels of understanding of the potential of qualifications systems.
Thus, the opportunity to develop a qualifications framework should be seen not as a specific tool to solve any one of these problems but more as a generic approach to reform that has the potential to address many problems. Moreover, the development of qualifications frameworks often fits well with the broad, top-level policy objectives of countries (for example, raising recognition of the importance of training, improving quality, raising qualification levels and developing social partnership). However, it is clear that the selection of tools to be introduced to tackle existing problems will depend heavily on the nature and the level of issues identified, the type of changes already introduced in the system, and the type of strategies that have already been developed or are in preparation. It seems obvious that developing an NQF may not be the absolute priority in countries where teachers are so badly paid that they all need a second job, where there is a severe shortage of technical equipment, and where social partners are simply not sufficiently organised to talk to the Ministry of Education or have no interest in doing so.
How has the ETF supported its partner countries in the NQF project? The engagement of ETF country managers and NQF project team leaders has certainly been crucial in encouraging dialogue about needs identification and the prioritisation of reform activities. Also important is the policy advice and support offered to national coordinators; this has been made available through the use of advisers and by creating opportunities for learning from the experiences of other countries. Technical advice on the ways in which qualifications systems work has also been made available. At the core of the ETF's NQF project has been the creation of a bridge between EU activity in the field of qualifications development and the local situation.
Excerpted from Developing Qualifications Frameworks in EU Partner Countries by Jean-Marc Castejon, Borhène Chakroun, Mike Coles, Arjen Deij, Vincent McBride. Copyright © 2011 European Training Foundation. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents
List of Figures and Tables; Acknowledgements; Contributors; Foreword; Preface; SECTION I. QUALIFICATION FRAMEWORKS: TOOLS FOR IMPROVEMENT; Introduction; Concepts of Qualification; National Qualifications Frameworks; Supporting Structures: Laws and Institutions; Can Qualifications Frameworks Improve the Quality of Learning Provision?; SECTION II. THE INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE; The European Qualifications Framework; The Development of NQFs in the EU; Trends in the Recognition and Validation of Learning; Qualifications Frameworks in an International Context; SECTION III. NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS FRAMEWORKS IN THE ETF PARTNER COUNTRIES; The Potential of Qualifications Systems in ETF Partner Countries; Current Developments in the Partner Countries; Russia and Ukraine; Southern Caucasus; Central Asia; The Mediterranean Partners; South Eastern Europe; Concluding Remarks; Annex