For several years, European institutions have stressed the importance of vocational education and training (VET) for the employability of (young) people, for economic competitiveness and growth, and for broader social challenges, in particular social cohesion.
In many member states, however, VET strategies focus largely on initial VET. Higher VET (HiVET) leading to qualifications at levels 5 to 8 of the European qualifications framework (EQF), is often neglected or underestimated in such policies. This is largely due to the heterogeneity of HiVET, with its great variety of providers, assessment procedures, and quality standards. This distinguishes HiVET from higher academic/science-oriented education organised within the Bologna process and characterised by a largely uniform qualification structure (bachelor, master, PhD) and common standards of quality assurance (QA). Although QA mechanisms are also in place in HiVET, there are no European reference guidelines nor are the mechanisms uniformly defined and applied at national level. The absence of common QA guidelines has become evident, in particular during the implementation of national qualifications frameworks (NQFs). NQF allocation frequently underrates HiVET qualifications, which means that there is a lack of parity of esteem between qualifications from higher academic education and higher VET.
Since September 2014 six institutions have been working together on the Erasmus Plus project Promoting and implementing European principles on quality assurance in higher vocational education and training (QA HiVETnet), planned to last three years. The main objective is to promote parity of esteem between these ‘education segments’, which complement each other. This objective will be reached by defining European guidelines and principles on quality assurance in higher VET, which will be drawn up by partners from, Belgium, Germany, Greece, France, Austria and one European organisation. These guidelines will be offered as a European reference for all HiVET providers and qualification awarding bodies. To strengthen cooperation between these institutions, a European network on quality assurance in Higher VET will be established to keep the subject matter on the political agenda, beyond the project, and develop the guidelines further.