Many EU companies complain about skilled labour shortage and unqualified job applicants. However, Member States have mainly focused to date on further developing initial vocational education and training. Higher VET has played a subordinate role in education policy, reflecting policy heterogeneity.
Academic tertiary education is perceived as being much more homogeneous, as it has a uniform qualification structure (bachelor, master, PhD) and common quality standards (the Standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European higher education area, ESG). These ‘common elements’ cannot all be found in higher VET and so no common understanding of higher VET has developed at European level.
An Erasmus+ project consortium has taken action to encourage such a common understanding and achieve more clarity on what distinguishes this sector and what are its joint features. The consortium of six institutions has drawn up European guidelines on quality assurance of higher VET on the initiative of UEAPME, the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises. These guidelines describe the key quality features which characterise and distinguish higher VET, according to the logic of higher VET as it is understood in this project and by UEAPME. The guidelines comprise a total of twelve quality features which are structured along the ‘lifecycle’ of a qualification, from needs analysis, development and implementation to evaluation and the derived steps for improvement. Three aspects are considered essential:
- ensuring proximity to the labour market: higher VET is demand-driven. One quality characteristic of higher VET is the involvement of representatives from professional practice in the entire ‘lifecycle’ of a qualification, from needs analysis to the implementation of measures aiming to improve the qualifications on offer;
- governance structure with close ties to the economy: the close connection between companies and higher VET is also reflected in the governance structure. This is characterised by the institutional cooperation of organisations with close ties to the economy, such as chambers, professional associations and – depending on the context – social partners, as well as state authorities and ministries. This ensures that higher VET is geared towards the specific requirements of companies and the labour market, both conceptually and in practical implementation (‘qualifications from the economy, for the economy’);
- safeguarding transparency: transparency creates understanding, understanding strengthens trust, trust leads to appreciation and recognition. To safeguard transparency it is important to structure all the processes and procedures throughout the ‘lifecycle’ of a qualification and communicate information clearly.
The guidelines intend to create a common basis and improve understanding of higher VET. Similar to the ESG, the quality features are meant to be understood as European reference points which stakeholders in higher VET can use to check their own quality assurance systems, mechanisms and instruments, and improve them if necessary.