Two new European tools, ECVET and EQARF were recently presented to the people who will be using them - training providers, social partners, policy-makers - at the launch conference, Moving from principles to implementation.
To make EU citizens employable across the EU, it is not enough to improve education and training system and rationalise the process of awarding and recognising qualifications. All these systems must also be mutually intelligible. This is just what the series of common European tools in vocational education and training aim to do.
The latest tools in this series are ECVET, the European Credit System in Vocational Education and Training, and EQARF, the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework. EQARF is intended to ensure the quality of education and training outputs, while ECVET focuses on qualification-awarding processes with the aim of making it easier for people to move between countries, between formal and non-formal ways of learning, and between general, higher and vocational education.
Officially launched in June 2009, these two new tools have successfully - though not without controversy completed an elaborate process of consultation and negotiation. Today, after almost ten years they are entering the phase of reality-testing and implementation.
All three of the recently developed European tools (ECVET, EQARF and the European Qualifications Framework, EQF) are part of a shift toward assessing learning outcomes (i.e. what the learner knows and can do at the end of the learning process) rather than inputs.
National qualifications frameworks based on learning outcomes on the model of the EQF, which are now being developed in the Member States, will allow people more freedom to develop their own learning pathways. These frameworks are complemented by competence assessment (validation) and credits for prior learning (ECVET and, for higher learning, ECTS); the documentation of knowledge, skills and competence (Europass); and a comprehensive approach to guidance and counselling.
Quality assurance: external and internal dimensions
Ultimately the success of our qualifications systems will depend on whether EQARF manages to generate mutual trust. The EQARF recommendation , which calls on Member States to develop national quality assurance approaches by 2011, is an acknowledgment that all stakeholders need to have confidence in each others VET activities.
Quality assurance encourages transparency between highly diverging vocational education and training (VET) systems by providing a common language and benchmarks that everyone can refer to. The European Quality Framework is therefore a translation device between VET systems and lifelong learning provision throughout Europe .
Within many countries, ensuring the quality of different qualifications systems calls for a complex set of arrangements, many of which are not formalised in a single code of practice . EQARF can assist Member States in supporting and monitoring the continuous improvement of their VET systems this is, indeed, the ultimate objective of all VET tools. Moreover, quality assurance encloses all aspects of training and can help integrate vocational education with the rest of the education system.
Credit transfer: partnerships make it possible
European tools such as ECVET challenge established partnerships and routines. This was revealed in the pilot phase of ECVET implementation. Some of the pilot projects tackled permeability between VET and higher education an issue in which feelings run high, especially in countries where higher education has traditionally enjoyed a much higher social status than vocational education. Other pilot projects dealt with barriers between occupational sectors also traditionally a source of mistrust and between VET traditions, which vary widely between countries and even regions.
These ECVET projects could not have worked without the development of strong partnerships - between bodies that design and award qualifications, on the one hand, and education and training providers on the other. Nothing less will guarantee the relevance and legitimacy of all qualifications on the labour market.
There is still some way to go before we can effectively link together the tools for education and training stakeholders. Moreover, developing these new European tools can often face the resistance of established patterns.
But the solutions elaborated out of the current crisis, and the development of National Qualifications Frameworks and pilot projects for European tools and initiatives are all signs that stakeholders are ready to cooperate more closely on qualifications. A more effective management of VET system and providers away from input steering and control and towards outcome recognition is emerging in several Member States.