‘Through systematic research over many years, Cedefop has been analysing how qualifications are awarded and used across Europe and how they support the needs of individuals for lifelong learning, recognition and employability,’ the Centre’s Deputy Director told a European Training Foundation (ETF) conference on making better qualifications, at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Christian Lettmayr noted that ‘the overall role of qualifications in our society can be described through two main, but contradictory, trends:

  • demand for more and higher qualifications, as in many European countries it is now hard to enter the labour market with less than upper secondary education;
  • inflationary tendency – as more and more qualifications are awarded both in the public and private sector, their exchange value for jobs and further education is diminishing.’

But he added: ‘Irrespective of this, there is no question that qualifications still play an indispensable role in our societies today. This is the reason why Cedefop gives high priority to understanding their roles and functions.’

Mr Lettmayr told participants at the two-day event (8 and 9 April) that ‘qualifications fundamentally rely on trust’ and that ‘they must respond to the needs of learners and the labour market for knowledge, skills and competence. Their responsiveness and relevance is of critical importance and they must change and adapt continuously.’

A 2009 Cedefop study defines a standard as the norms and specifications regulating the award of qualifications. A follow-up study in 2013 shows how these standards are reviewed and renewed.

Describing qualifications through learning outcomes means to explicitly state what a learner is expected to know, be able to do and understand at the end of a course or programme, replacing an input approach where the focus is on teaching input and duration.

Mr Lettmayr said that ‘while standards express the learning outcomes’ intentions, the assessment process should ensure that these intentions have been translated into actual skills and competences. If qualifications promise more than they hold there is a danger that trust towards them will suffer.’

He stressed that ‘a key challenge in the coming years is to improve further the way we describe and define learning outcomes. Cedefop is involved currently in several major studies as well as supporting Member States and the EU Commission in taking forward this terminological work in ESCO and EQF.’

The Cedefop Deputy Director concluded by quoting Austrian novelist Joseph Roth: ‘What is a man without paper? Less than paper without a man!’