Trust is key to improving permeability between vocational education and training (VET) and higher education, and quality assurance is essential to achieve this, Cedefop Director James Calleja has told a conference on quality assurance in VET and higher education in Brussels (22 and 23 October).

‘What we need is a shift in mindsets and trust,’ said Mr Calleja and added that as European tools – notably qualifications frameworks, credit systems and validation and recognition arrangements – are now moving into the second stage of implementation, ‘to ensure that they are used consistently and trusted, we need all stakeholders on board.’

He pointed out that ‘quality assurance arrangements might need to adapt’ and that they have to be linked to learning outcomes extensively to increase permeability, thus allowing people to move easily across different types and levels of education ‘like water can move through permeable rock’.

A recent Cedefop study, soon to be available online, highlights that several European enterprises have developed solid and transparent procedures to assess and record competences (learning outcomes).

However, as Mr Calleja said, ‘they can hardly be used outside the given company and they do not interact with national public validation schemes.’ Therefore, if they are to have a broader value for the citizen, they should not be ‘developed in an isolated way’.

Mr Calleja also spoke to the ESCO stakeholders’ conference (24 October) about the benefit of the multilingual classification of European skills, competences, qualifications and occupations (ESCO) for Cedefop’s work in key working areas (Europass, validation of learning outcomes, shift to learning outcomes in education and training and forecasting of skills needs and skills provisions).

According to Cedefop’s Director, ‘these areas lie at the heart of European cooperation in vocational education and training and lifelong learning; they can thus serve to illustrate why ESCO is relevant not only to employment services but also to the education and training system.’

Mr Calleja argued that ESCO can provide ‘a structured and systematic terminological basis’ in all languages covered by Europass, the set of documents designed to make people’s skills and qualifications clearly and easily understood across Europe.

He added that ‘the potential benefit of ESCO to validation can be exemplified by the proposal to introduce skills audits for individuals who are unemployed or at the risk of unemployment.’
ESCO can also ‘add value to the writing of learning outcomes by providing a structured and rich terminological input’, while it can support the shift to understanding ‘the skills and competence needs of the labour market and how these are met by learning outcomes’.

In conclusion, Mr Calleja noted that the dialogue between the labour market and education and training cannot be promoted by ESCO alone; ‘a minimum condition is that the relationship to the European Qualifications Framework is further developed and that these two initiatives are closely connected.’